Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Presidential vote totals serve as a reminder of how much Lawrence differs from the rest of Douglas County; see how each precinct voted and turnout rates
It doesn’t exactly take Sherlock Holmes and his goofy hat to uncover evidence that Lawrence is quite a bit different than the rest of Kansas. (Don’t even bring Sherlock’s pipe up in Lawrence, unless you want to get onto an entirely different conversation.) The recent presidential election results were the latest exhibit of how different Lawrence is, with Clinton winning big in Lawrence and Trump winning nearly everywhere else in Kansas.
But what sometimes doesn’t get much attention is just how different Lawrence is than the rest of Douglas County. An analysis of last week’s presidential returns shows that the national trend of an urban-rural split among Clinton and Trump was in full force in Douglas County too.
Here’s one set of figures to drive that home: The largest vote percentage Trump received in any Lawrence precinct (technically any Lawrence precinct with at least 100 ballots) was 35.2 percent in precinct No. 49, which is the area in west Lawrence around the Corpus Christi Church. In the precincts outside the Lawrence city limits, the lowest vote percentage Trump received was 41.7 percent in Precinct 67, which is the area along U.S. Highway 59 that generally includes the Pleasant Grove area south of Wells Overlook Road.
In other words, Trump’s worst area in Douglas County was significantly better than his best area inside the Lawrence city limits.
To see all of this at a glance, take a look at the handy map that LJWorld.com online editor Nick Gerik produced. It shows Lawrence, even in its own county, is pretty much a sea of blue in an ocean of red. There were a couple of rural precincts that Clinton won, but the majority went to Trump, and Eudora, Baldwin City and Lecompton all went to Trump as well.
(Note: All these totals came from the unofficial vote count done on Tuesday night. The county has since added about 1,200 provisional ballots, but the totals in any one precinct didn't materially.)
Here’s a look at some numbers:
• Are you wondering where the Democratic strongholds are in Lawrence? These five precincts would be a good place to start. Clinton received her highest percentages from these precincts. (Again, a precinct had to have at least 100 ballots cast for me to consider it.)
— Precinct 40, which votes at Trinity Lutheran Church at 1245 New Hampshire Street: 83.3 percent Clinton
— Precinct 9, which votes at the Lawrence Jewish Community Center, 917 Highland: 82.5 percent
— Precinct 39, which votes at New York Elementary School in East Lawrence: 82.1 percent
— Precinct 2, which votes at the Lawrence Public Library in downtown: 81.3 percent
— Precinct 3, which votes at the Carnegie Building in downtown: 79.9 percent
• Perhaps you want to take a vacation to Trump Country. You won’t have to travel far. Trump received his highest percentages from these five precincts. The numbers in parenthesis identifies the particular portion of the precinct. Rural precincts are larger in geographic area, so the county tracks votes there a bit differently.
— Precinct 59 (H54), which votes at Marion Township Hall in southwest Douglas County: 61.6 percent for Trump.
— Precinct 67 (S19 H54), which votes at Willow Springs Township Hall just west of Highway 59 west of Baldwin City: 59 percent.
— Precinct 53 (H10), which votes at Eudora Township Fire Station, which is in the southern part of Eudora: 58 percent
— Precinct 57 (S19), which votes at Lecompton City Hall: 55.4 percent
— Precinct 53 (H42), which also votes at the Eudora Township Fire Station in south Eudora: 53.6 percent.
• I don’t know if there is a crown that goes with it, or perhaps just a voluminous head of hair, but Eudora may be the king of Trump Country in Douglas County. Eudora-based precincts had two of the top five, but the other precincts in Eudora also voted for Trump. In fact, Precinct 50, which votes at the Eudora Church of Christ in west Eudora had the actual highest number of Trump votes of any precinct in the county at 549. Its percentage for Trump was 51.5 percent, which kept it just out of the top five in that category. Interestingly, Precinct 50 also had the highest number of people who voted for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, 81 or 7.6 percent.
• While we are speaking of Libertarians, it is worth noting that the precinct that had the highest percentage of voters casting a ballot for the Libertarian candidate was Precinct 10. Where is Precinct 10? That’s the precinct that votes on the KU campus, and includes many of the student housing facilities on campus. It had 9.1 percent of its votes go toward Johnson. Trump won 11.1 percent and Clinton won 75.5 percent. However, only 208 people voted in the precinct, a turnout of about 22 percent.
• While we are speaking of voter turnout, here is a look at the top five and bottom five precincts in regards to voter turnout. As a reminder, the average turnout countywide was 61 percent. (Again, for the results below, I’m only counting precincts with at least 100 ballots cast.) And here is a map that shows voter turnout at a glance.
The top 5:
— Precinct 59 (H45), which votes at Marion Township in southwest Douglas County: 79.55 percent. (If you remember, that also is the precinct that voted most heavily for Trump. Turnout would suggest his supporters were enthusiastic there.)
— Precinct 51, which votes at Clinton Township Hall in western Douglas County: 76.95 percent
— Precinct 44 (H44), which votes at Lawrence Heights Christian Church on Peterson Road in northern Lawrence: 76.84 percent
— Precinct 66 (S19 H10), which votes at the First Church of the Nazarene in the part of rural Douglas County south of Lawrence: 76 percent
— Precinct 53 H10, which votes at the Eudora Township Fire Station in south Eudora: 75.81 percent.
The bottom 5:
— Precinct 10, which votes on the KU campus: 21.96 percent
— Precinct 7, which votes at the Carnegie Building in downtown Lawrence: 28.96 percent
— Precinct 25, which votes at Central United Methodist Church near 15th and Massachusetts: 31.49 percent
— Precinct 8, which votes at Trinity Lutheran Church at 1245 New Hampshire: 34.64 percent.
— Precinct 30 S3, which votes at Schwegler Elementary: 35.35 percent
So, what does it mean that four of the five top turnout precincts were based outside of the Lawrence city limits and all five of the bottom precincts in terms of turnout were based in Lawrence? Well, some of it may be a technicality. Lawrence has a much more transient population — due to students — than rural Douglas County. When those students leave Lawrence, they sometimes still show up on the voter registration rolls, even though they no longer live here. That deflates the turnout numbers.
But, that may not be all of the story. It very well could be that Douglas County fit the national narrative that there were more people — especially those in rural areas — who were enthused about Trump than people initially thought. Turnout rates of more than 70 percent in those precincts show some genuine enthusiasm, or at least a strong desire to vote against Clinton.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from all of this is that it is worth remembering Douglas County isn’t homogeneous. There are parts of the county that aren’t that much different than the rest of Kansas. If Lawrence and Douglas County ever get serious about consolidating government services, that’s an issue that probably will loom large. You don’t have travel far from the Lawrence city limits to get a different view of the world, and what role government ought to play in it.
A look at cameras tracking the comings and goings of Lawrence motorists; study shows how much the average Lawrence consumer should spend on Christmas
Today’s column is spurred by a reader question. A reader saw something that looked odd along the new South Lawrence Trafficway, and no, it wasn’t my F150 continuously missing my exit on the eastern terminus of the road. (Have you learned by now that when heading east on 23rd Street you must be in the left lane in order to keep heading toward Kansas City? The right lane puts you on the westbound SLT, and causes people in the vehicle to say bad things about you and something about how even a monkey would have learned it on the fourth try.)
But what the reader was questioning is less conspicuous. There is an odd-shaped camera atop one of the traffic signal poles at the SLT and Iowa Street interchange. There are cameras atop many traffic signals in Lawrence. They help with the timing of the lights and also allow the city to monitor road conditions and such.
This camera, though, looked different, and the reader suspected it was a license plate scanner, which is a device that captures the license plate information of every vehicle that passes by and stores the data for use by law enforcement. The readers, for instance, can send police an almost instantaneous alert when a vehicle with a flagged license plate passes by a camera.
I checked with the Lawrence Police Department, and indeed the camera is a license plate reader. While the camera is new, the idea of the Lawrence Police Department using license plate scanners is not, I was told. The department began using the license plate readers in 2009. The recent installation at the SLT interchange is the seventh license plate reader the department has installed in the city. Information from the police department also indicates that some police vehicles are equipped with the scanners. (I’ve asked for an estimate of how many police vehicles have the technology, and will pass it along when I receive information.) UPDATE: Although the department has written procedures for how vehicle-mounted license plate readers could be used, the department doesn't yet have any vehicle mounted scanners, a police spokeswoman said.
License plate readers have gotten some national media attention over the years. The Washington Post wrote an article in 2011 that noted many law enforcement agencies didn’t have any formal policies on how to use the information that was collected or how long the information should be kept. That’s not the case in Lawrence, though. The department has a three-page policy that spells out how the technology should be used by the department. Among the rules are:
— Data should not be kept for a period of more than 60 days, unless it is “has become, or it is reasonable to believe it will become, evidence in a criminal action.” In those cases the data is downloaded onto a portable device and booked as evidence.
— All data is stored on a password-protected server that records each time someone accesses the system.
— Department members are allowed to access the data only for official and legitimate law enforcement business.
— The data is not available to the general public as it may contain confidential criminal case information.
You can see the full policy here. It is worth noting that I’m uncertain whether the policy has been in place the entire time the department has had the technology. The policy is undated. I’ve asked for clarification on that point. UPDATE: Indeed, the Lawrence Police Department was a bit late in adopting a policy. A police department spokeswoman confirmed the policy was not adopted until June 2016. It is unclear what guidelines the department had in place for the camera's use prior to the policy.
Nationally, among groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the license plate reader technology has created privacy concerns related to police departments having so much access to the travel patterns of innocent individuals.
Sgt. Amy Rhoads, a public affairs officer for the Lawrence Police Department, said the department is mindful of the balancing act between privacy and using the technology to solve crimes. She said the technology primarily is used in conjunction with felony investigations, but also could be utilized for purposes of identifying stolen vehicles, stolen license plates, missing persons, and suspect identification.
“We have used ALPR technology as a tool to apprehend serious criminals who have committed major crime in our city,” Rhoads said. “The ALPR technology is restricted to legitimate law enforcement usage and can help increase the reach of major investigations, helping to enhance public safety.”
One thing you may be wondering about in terms of usage is whether the cameras could be used to capture the license plates of motorists who run a red light. Some states have technology where you get a ticket in the mail for running a red light or some other type of offense. License plate readers are used as part of those type of systems, but such tickets aren’t issued in Lawrence or elsewhere in Kansas. My understanding is that Kansas doesn’t have a state law that allows for such red light cameras.
As we have reported, though, license plate readers are used in Lawrence to issue other types of tickets. Last year the University of Kansas began using license plate reader technology to issue parking tickets on campus.
As we have reported, the city of Lawrence is set to hire a firm to begin studying the parking system in downtown Lawrence and around the university. It will be interesting to see if license plate reader technology is part of the solution. I know I’ve been in cities where instead of paying a meter in front of my car, I’ve paid at a digital kiosk which required me to enter my license plate. I assume license plate readers are then used to quickly check for any vehicles in a parking lot that haven’t paid.
Such use probably will require some discussions about how governments store and use the data. A recent article in The Atlantic magazine, though, raised the question of whether the real issue may be how private companies are using the license plate readers. The article noted one private company has a database of more than 4.2 billion sightings, and it is growing at a rate of 120 million data points a month. The private company, Vigilant, sells its database to law enforcement or private companies that may have a use for the data.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is that time of year where lists are made and they are checked twice. I don’t know if it is a sign that we have been naughty, but a new study suggests that the average Lawrence consumer should spend less on Christmas gifts than consumers in many other cities.
The folks at the financial website WalletHub have put out a list that shows what average consumers in various cities should spend on the holidays based upon debt, expense and income data for each community.
The good news is that we all may know some folks in Shawnee. The Johnson County community had the ninth highest holiday budget of the 570 cities that were studied. The average consumer in Shawnee could spend $1,843 for the holidays without feeling much of a pinch.
How about it Lawrence? $563. That ranked Lawrence No. 340 on the list 570 cities. A holiday budget of $563 sounds about right — if you are only purchasing egg nog for the holidays.
Obviously, you should make of this report what you choose. I pass it along because it is an interesting way to look at debt, expense and income levels of various communities. The report relies on Census data, but WalletHub also has a relationship with the financial services firm TransUnion, which has credit data on scores of individuals.
So, here’s a look at how some regional communities fared.
— No. 9: Shawnee: $1,843
— No. 37: Overland Park: $1,388
— No. 107: Olathe: $923
— No. 142: Lee’s Summit, Mo.: $853
— No. 171: Ames, Iowa: $774
— No. 181: Independence, Mo.: $755
— No. 303: Boulder, Colo.: $592
— No. 304: Kansas City, Mo.: $591
— No. 333: Iowa City: $569
— No. 340: Lawrence: $563
— No. 342: Wichita: $562
— No. 356: St. Joseph, Mo.: $550
— No. 379: Columbia, Mo.: $532
— No. 389: Topeka: $527
The results are calculated by looking at average incomes, ages, debt-to-income ratios, monthly income to monthly expenses ratios, and savings to monthly expenses ratios. As I said before, make of it what you will. I encourage you to spend as much as you want. But, to be safe, I plan to kiss up to the Shawnee folks.
If this isn’t a textbook definition of synergy, I don’t know what is: A national chain has filed plans to open an all-you-can-eat style restaurant just a couple of doors down from the Planet Fitness workout facility on south Iowa Street.
HuHot Mongolian Grill has filed plans to locate at 25th and Iowa streets in a portion of the space previously occupied by Tuesday Morning. If you are not familiar with HuHot, it has about 50 restaurants across the U.S., including in Topeka, Wichita, and Manhattan.
The concept is similar to other Mongolian grills where you select raw meat, vegetables and noodles, go to a sauce bar to pour a few ladles of liquid on your ingredients. and then you take those selections to a grill staffed by a stir-fry chef. You then watch the stir-fry chef chop and stir while you do dumbbell curls to prepare yourself to carry your plate back to your table. (Well, maybe that last part is optional.)
HuHot, however, does have a lot of ingredients to choose from. According to its menu, meat and seafood selections include: beef, chicken, halibut, salmon, calamari, swordfish, hot sausage, mahi-mahi, pork, shrimp and tilapia. The menu also includes about four different varieties of noodles and rice and about 25 different vegetables ranging from traditional Asian stir fry ingredients, such as bamboo shoots and bean sprouts, to less traditional ones, such as jalapeños, black beans, and potatoes.
The sauces are where things can get really interesting because it allows you to mix and match, kind of like when you were a kid at the self-serve soda fountain. The sauce bar includes about 25 sauces including several ginger, black Thai peanut, garlic varieties, teriyaki, sesame, soy, sweet chili, and a few that lead me to believe they may not be appropriate for my stir fry dish, but may be useful in thinning my eyebrows. Those include Khan’s Revenge, Five Village Fire Szechuan, and Burn Your Village BBQ.
As I believe I have mentioned, the stir fry bar is all-you-can-eat. You pay one price — ranging from $10 to about $15, depending on when you dine — and refill as many times as you would like.
HuHot will take about 5,000 square feet — or roughly half — of the former Tuesday Morning space. If you have forgotten where Tuesday Morning was located, the space is just south of the Office Depot store. Office Depot is just south of the new Planet Fitness.
In addition, plans have been filed with the city to prepare another part of the 25th and Iowa shopping center for an additional tenant. The development group has filed plans to subdivide the approximately 24,000 square feet of space that is vacant just north of the Planet Fitness facility. Plans call for the space to be divided into an approximately 14,000 square foot retail space and a 9,000 square foot retail location. UPDATE: I talked with Christian Ablah with Classic Real Estate — the group that is marketing the development — today, and he said the splitting of the 24,000 square feet space is still preliminary. He said there may be a user that wants to take that entire location, but no deal has yet been reached. In addition, there will be about a 6,000 square foot space on the back side of the building. All told, the building — which previously was occupied largely by Office Depot and the former Discovery Furniture — will be able to house up to six tenants. No word yet on which businesses the development group may land.
If somehow the group could land something like an Elastic Waist Bands R Us store, that would take the synergy levels to even greater heights.
I’ve had this article on my list to do for nearly 25 years. No, I’m not quite that big of a procrastinator. I’m talking about an article detailing how much time the completed South Lawrence Trafficway would save motorists once it was completed.
I bought the stopwatch shortly after I wrote my very first article as a Douglas County journalist in 1992. It was about how the South Lawrence Trafficway project was in its final phases. Turns out, I was just a bit off. It seems I also could have saved the money on the stopwatch and used my sundial instead to measure the project.
That is all history, however, as the long-debated and long-litigated eastern leg of the trafficway opened to motorists this week. So, I spent some time driving it on Thursday — with the stopwatch on my phone. (You needed a really long cord to pull that off in 1992.) Here’s what I found.
• Rock Chalk Express? The SLT project is estimated to have about a $3.7 billion economic impact on the region in the years to come. I’m guessing a good part of that is additional health care spending by pickup basketball players who now will play more because they have a quicker route to the multitude of courts at the Sports Pavilion at Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence.
In all seriousness, one of the concerns some have expressed about Rock Chalk Park is that it is a long ways away from certain parts of the city. The SLT project should help in some regards. But how much?
Here’s what I did: I started in the Prairie Park neighborhood in southeast Lawrence. Specifically, I was near the corner of E. 26th Terrace and Bishop Street because I know for a fact that there is a resident near there who is a pickup brick layer . . . I mean basketball player. (Don’t worry, such insults won’t cause him to pass me the ball any less.)
I would take two routes: One via the trafficway, and another route assuming that the SLT had never been built. That part is important because it means I stayed off the new section of 31st Street between Haskell and O’Connell because all indications were that project wasn’t going to happen without the SLT.
The route I took through the city was O’Connell Road to 23rd Street, which turns into Clinton Parkway, then Wakarusa Drive to Sixth Street, and then George Williams Way to Rock Chalk Park. That drive took 25 minutes and 45 seconds midday Thursday.
Then I took the SLT route. I again took O’Connell Road to 23rd Street, but this time I turned east and got on the new SLT interchange that is just basically right around the corner from the Prairie Park neighborhood. I could have taken the new 31st Street west over to the Haskell Avenue/SLT interchange as well. But the philosophy in the Lawhorn house is the quicker you can get to 70 miles per hour, the quicker you will get there. (Warning: That philosophy at times has made getting auto insurance difficult.) So, I got on the SLT as soon as I could, and stayed on it until the Sixth Street interchange, and then took Sixth to George Williams to Rock Chalk Park. The time was 19 minutes and 18 seconds. So, a savings of about six and a half minutes. Just think of what you could do if you get to the Sports Pavilion about six minutes earlier. My buddy could put up about 3,000 shots and ruin at least five basketballs.
• From end to end. A big reason Kansas Department of Transportation officials stuck with the SLT project through more than 20 years of delay is because they believed the state was in need of a better route for motorists traveling between Johnson County and Topeka. Interstate 70 doesn’t go through Johnson County, and some of the connecting routes to I-70 in the metro area can get pretty congested. The SLT provides that link between Kansas Highway 10 — the major east-west route into Johnson County — and I-70.
So, I wanted to time how long it would take to go from the western end of the trafficway to the eastern end, and then how long it would take to go from the same two points by using Lawrence city streets instead.
For this exercise, I also pretended I was a semi-truck driver, which means I stuck to truck routes through the city. (It also was a good excuse to make lots of air horn noises, and say phrases like “keep the bugs off your glass and the bears off your . . . bumper.”) I mainly did it, though, because truck traffic is expected to be a major beneficiary of the new road.
I started at the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike, which is the western terminus for the SLT. For the non-SLT route, I took Interstate 70 to the West Lawrence interchange, then took McDonald Drive to Iowa Street, and Iowa Street to 23rd Street and stayed on 23rd until I got outside the city limits. Time: 21 minutes and 45 seconds.
The SLT route is simple enough: I started at the same Lecompton interchange and took the SLT to its eastern terminus just outside the Lawrence city limits. Time: 14 minutes and 10 second. That’s a difference of about seven and a half minutes. Perhaps some people expected it would have been a bit more of a time savings, but you have to remember that the old route did include a good stretch of 75-mile-per-hour roadway — the turnpike section between the Lecompton interchange and the West Lawrence interchange. By avoiding that stretch of interstate, you are not really saving any time. Your time savings comes by avoiding the Lawrence city streets. Whether the time savings is enough to justify the expense and trouble of the road probably will be debated. But it seems clear that trucking companies would be foolish not to use the SLT. Saving more than seven minutes and a lesser toll will be big selling points to the trucking companies.
• Shopper savings. I wanted to see how much time it would save somebody coming from east of Lawrence to get to the shopping district on South Iowa Street. This one was difficult because all Lawhorn vehicles have made the trip down 23rd Street over to Haskell and then to 31st Street and then to Ousdahl so many times that it was difficult to get the truck to take a different route.
But I managed, and here are the results. I started at the Davenport Winery and Orchard which is right near K-10 and County Route 1057. It was just an easy place to start from. My ending location was the Wal-Mart parking lot. For the non-SLT route, I took the route described above. Time: 13 minutes and 20 seconds.
The SLT route was simply starting at Davenport and taking the trafficway to the Iowa Street interchange, and then turning off of Iowa Street into the Wal-Mart parking lot. One note here: There is an odd change in speed limits between the Haskell interchange and the Iowa Street interchange. The speed limit for westbound traffic drops from 70 miles per hour to 65 miles per hour. The reason is because it is a transition zone. Remember, the SLT west of Iowa Street is still two lanes. Imagine how many out-of-town motorists are going to wonder why that road was built that way. Don’t worry, though, the eastern leg of the SLT is still a real time saver. This is maybe the key statistic of the whole trafficway. You can drive from Iowa Street to east of the city limits in four minutes by taking the trafficway. But, how much time did I save on the trip to Wal-Mart? The total time was seven minutes. In this particular case that is about a 50 percent reduction in total trip time. That’s a scary thought for my wallet. In all, the time savings was about six and a half minutes.
If you’ve noticed, that has pretty much been the savings each time. The SLT: The seven-minute trafficway. Or the 25-year trafficway. Take your pick. Probably the bigger quandary will be figuring out whether the time savings and other benefits of the road have been worth the cost and trouble. I’ll leave that to others to figure out.
But don’t plan on doing so during your commute. You may not have the time.
New location for downtown arts store; Lawrence takes high ranking for college graduates; a look at the accuracy of the J-W election poll
Following Tuesday’s late night of election watching, I suspect many of our lists of “essential goods” includes toothpicks to keep eyelids open, earplugs to drown out the commentators, and I’m sure there is a third item, but it likely varies by party. I don’t believe the downtown store with the name Essential Goods carries any of that, but the store is soon going to become easier to find.
Essential Goods, which for the past couple of years has been in the basement beneath the Phoenix Gallery, is moving to 933 Massachusetts St., which is right next door to Au Marche.
“It is just time,” owner Molly Crook said. “I’m so grateful the business has grown to this point. I’ll have windows and will see the weather and won’t have to take Vitamin D supplements anymore.”
In terms of what Essential Goods carries, it is an eclectic mix of art and household items, with an emphasis on works from people who are from the local area or at least the state. Items include bath and body products, prints, ceramics, stationery, housewares, coffee, salts, herbs, sauces and jewelry. (I don’t want to have the debate again about whether jewelry is essential. I also don’t want my front door key to stop working either.)
Crook said the store started out four years ago carrying 35 artists that were all either local or from Kansas. Today, the store has about 165 artists, and about 80 percent of them still meet the local or Kansas provision.
Crook said consumers continue to be more interested in buying items that are locally made. She credited fellow downtown stores like Made, the Phoenix Gallery and Wonder Fair for helping to promote that retailing model in Lawrence. Crook said that she believes downtown Lawrence is close to becoming an area destination for shoppers who want that type of product. The move to ground floor space should help Essential Goods add to that reputation and grow its own business, Crook said.
“People want goods that are made with somebody’s hands, and made the right way, instead of how some companies may be paying people to make them overseas,” Crook said. “It is an idea that is really flourishing. And all of us in downtown have slightly different niches, and we all truly want each other to succeed.”
Essential Goods is expected to be open in its new location by next week at the latest.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Another day, another list. Lawrence is ranked as the 12th best city in the country for new college graduates, according to the financial website ValuePenguin.
The website ranked 382 metro areas based on factors related to jobs, lifestyle and affordability, using data primarily from the U.S. Census Bureau. While Lawrence ranked No. 12 overall, it actually ranked No. 9 in the lifestyle ranking, which looked at factors such as commute times, number of arts and entertainment businesses, transit costs and other factors. Lawrence ranked No. 31 in the jobs category, although it is important to note that category didn’t look at how quickly jobs are growing in the metro area. Rather it looked at unemployment rates for 20- to 24-year-olds, education levels, and the earnings difference between those with a college degree and those without. Lawrence ranked No. 356 in the affordability category, which looks at median rent rates, the number of full-time and part-time employees without health insurance, and a couple of different unemployment rate statistics.
The affordability ranking catches your attention, but it is worth noting many of the university communities on the list also were ranked high in that category. As I’ve noted frequently, the affordability issue is a complex one.
Here’s a look at how some other area communities ranked on the best places for new college graduates
— No. 7: Columbia, Mo.
— No. 11: Iowa City
— No 13: Boulder, Colo.
— No. 26: Ames, Iowa
— No. 29: Manhattan
— No. 30: Fort Collins, Colo.
— No. 93: Kansas City
— No. 118: Wichita
— No. 157 Topeka
• Here’s one last number item for you, and be forewarned, it also involves the election. You may remember that earlier in the month, we reported on an internet poll the Journal-World conducted with Google Surveys. The poll found 62.7 percent of registered voters planned to vote for Clinton while 19.8 percent planned to vote for Trump.
I told you at the time that I would compare the results of our poll with that of the actual election results in Douglas County. I’m interested in determining whether this internet polling method actually works. As a reminder, the Google Survey poll is much different from a standard internet poll that allows people to vote when they want to vote and as many times as they want to vote. Instead, Google uses a program that randomly samples a portion of the approximately 35,000 daily users of the LJWorld.com website. Users have no ability to choose whether they are asked to participate in the poll or not. The survey is presented when people click on an article, and they are asked to complete the survey before they view the article. And yes, we know some of you just quickly click on an answer to get to the article. Google factors that into its analysis by red-flagging the answers that were given very quickly.
So, how did it turn out? Well, the poll ended up being very accurate at predicting support for Clinton. The poll registered 62.7 percent support for Clinton in Douglas County, while Douglas County election results stand at 62.3 percent for Clinton. Our poll was less accurate at predicting support for Trump. It had Trump at 19.8 percent, while Douglas County election results stand at 29.6 percent. Part of the difference is that about 11 percent of our poll respondents said they were going to vote for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein. In reality about 8 percent did. The bigger difference is we gave people the chance in our poll to say they were voting for none of the above, and that was the response of 6.4 percent of our poll respondents. On the actual ballot, there isn’t that option, other than a write-in vote or to simply skip that part of the ballot. If I am reading the Douglas County numbers correctly, about 1,500 people did cast a ballot but did not vote for president. That pencils out to about 3 percent of all the voters who essentially voted for none of the above.
We also polled whom people expected to vote for on the U.S. Senate race. Again, our results weren’t bad. Our poll found 62.8 percent planned to vote for Democrat Patrick Wiesner. He ended up winning 60.1 percent of the vote. Sen. Jerry Moran had 26.3 percent in our poll and ended up with 35 percent. The difference again ended up being more people in the poll supporting a Libertarian or none of the above than what actually happened in reality.
So, it looks like the poll was pretty accurate in predicting Democratic support but was about 10 percentage points off in predicting Republican support. If I had it to do over again, I probably wouldn’t give people the option of voting for none of the above. That makes interpreting these results a bit confusing.
In summary, not a perfect poll, but I know of several pollsters right now who would trade me.
Update on judicial retention as Johnson County votes still being counted; Politico report mentions Brownback as possible Trump cabinet member; some numbers to ponder
Surely the talk of the town today will be about last night’s election, so Town Talk will stay on that theme as well. After all, there are a few loose ends to tie up. Here’s a look at some of what we know and also some of what we don’t:
• As of about 6:45 a.m., votes in Johnson County still were not fully counted. However, it appears voters in that large, affluent county won’t change the outcome of the retention races on the Kansas Supreme Court.
When you went to bed — or wherever you went about 2 a.m. — all Kansas Supreme Court justices were winning their elections to be retained. The caveat, though, was that a minority of votes had been counted in Johnson County. According to the secretary of state’s office, about 62 percent of the precincts in Johnson County now have been tallied. Every Supreme Court justice is winning a majority in Johnson County — i.e., voters there are voting to retain the justices.
On the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, along with Justices Carol Beier, Dan Biles and Marla Luckert, were all targets of massive negative ad campaigns, ostensibly because of their decisions in several death penalty cases, including a 2013 decision to vacate the death sentences of murderers Jonathan and Reginald Carr. A group called Kansans for Justice, which was founded by victims of the Carr brothers, spent more than $633,000 on television ads alone, according to figures from the Brennan Center for Justice. But other conservative groups were involved in direct mail campaigns as well, including the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life and the Kansas State Rifle Association.
Here’s a look at the statewide totals, as reported by the Kansas secretary of state’s website:
— Beier: Yes to retain, 56 percent (584,629 votes); No, 44 percent (458,358)
— Biles: Yes, 55 percent (574,739); No, 45 percent (462,232)
— Nuss: Yes, 55 percent (571,379); No, (464,111)
— Luckert: Yes, 56 percent (578,150); No, (456,454)
— Stegall, who was not targeted by the above-mentioned groups: Yes, 71 percent (733,502); No, (301,109)
The same groups as mentioned above also targeted Kansas Court of Appeals judges. All those judges currently are ahead — again with only Johnson County totals outstanding — with yes votes ranging from 73 percent to 59 percent. The partial returns from Johnson County show voters there were largely voting to retain.
It appears the effort to remove justices and judges from Kansas courts has failed. That will be very important in state politics as the Kansas Supreme Court issues rulings about school finance.
• We will be watching today whether Kansas politics gets disrupted by Trump's victory. Gov. Sam Brownback has been named by Politico as a potential contender to be Trump’s secretary of agriculture. Brownback by no means would be a lock for the job, but he has served as an adviser to Trump on some issues this campaign.
We also will be watching to see if Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has a spot in a Trump administration. His name was not part of the Politico article, but Kobach was an early and staunch supporter of Trump and advised him on immigration issues.
• We’ll have more updates coming. Some of them will show up here, but we’ll also be producing full articles on a number of topics. Statehouse Bureau Chief Peter Hancock will be sorting out whether a moderate Republican/Democrat coalition has formed in the Kansas Legislature, and we’ll have more reaction from Douglas County’s residents to Trump’s win, and whatever else develops on what will probably be an active day full of people operating on less than optimal sleep levels.
What could go wrong with that?
• Early on Tuesday, we alerted you to a few numbers to watch in the election related to turnout and vote totals. Here’s a few updates on those numbers:
— Despite setting a record for advance voting, Douglas County did not set any turnout records. Come to find out, Douglas County voters may have just been more eager to get their voting over with than anything else. Douglas County turnout was a respectable 61.1 percent, according to unofficial totals from the Douglas County Clerk’s office. That’s down slightly from 61.7 percent in the 2012 presidential election. It is down several percentage points from the high-water mark of 64.6 percent in the 2008 election. Do you remember that night when a spontaneous parade broke out on Massachusetts Street after Obama’s victory was announced?
— Republican candidates generally aren’t too popular in very blue Douglas County. Donald Trump, however, was particularly unpopular. Trump received 29.6 percent of the vote in Douglas County. That’s notably less than other Republican candidates in recent presidential elections. In 2012, Romney received 35.9 percent of the vote in Douglas County; in 2008 McCain won 33.4 percent; and in 2004, Bush won 41 percent.
A key point, though, is that Hillary Clinton wasn’t the candidate to take advantage of it. Despite Trump’s weakness, Clinton only polled slightly better than Obama in 2012, when he won 60.3 percent of the vote in Douglas County. She fell short of Obama’s 64.1 percent total in 2008. She did outpoll Kerry, who won 57 percent of Douglas County ballots in 2004.
The big difference in the vote totals came with the third-party candidates. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein won 7.8 percent of the vote in Douglas County. That was a far higher total for third-party candidates than in recent elections. In 2012, third-party candidates captured 3.7 percent of the vote in Douglas County. In 2008 it was 2.4 percent, and it was 1.8 percent in 2004. Many folks couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Trump, but quite a few couldn’t see their way to Clinton either.
• Trump was not the only Republican seeing some weakness in Kansas. U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran didn’t poll as well in Kansas or Douglas County as he did six years ago. The Republican saw his level of support in Douglas County drop from 45.3 percent in 2010 to 35.2 percent in 2016. Statewide, his vote totals dropped from 70 percent in 2010 to 62 percent in 2016. But Moran was never in any jeopardy of losing the race. Despite those headwinds, the Democrats weren’t able to field a candidate who could get within 25 points of Moran.
• Certainly Clinton’s loss and the the failure of Democrats to take control of the U.S. Senate will cause the Democratic Party on a national level to have some conversations about strategy. It will be interesting to see what type of conversations Kansas Democrats have. Did anybody else notice this number from a report earlier this month? The J-W’s Statehouse Bureau Chief Peter Hancock reported on voter registration numbers for the state.
Hancock reported that Kansas Democrats have gained only 3,088 registered voters in the last four years. Kansas Republicans have gained about 15,000 registered voters in that time. But more striking is that the Libertarian Party gained 4,111 new registered voters in the time period. The Kansas Democratic Party is growing more slowly than the competition, despite being in an environment where one of the least popular governors in the nation is a Republican and is from Kansas.
What type of conversation will that create among Democrats?
On this most American of days, an update on new restaurants serving the most American of foods: pizza and burritos
This was discouraging. I asked my 13-year old son last night how he thought the election would go. His answer: Bad — somebody is going to win. Of all the things this election will impact, I wonder if apathy levels of a future generation of voters are among them. Oh well, at least I have local news about two of the most American of foods: pizza and burritos.
Spin! Pizza has announced it will open the doors of its new west Lawrence location on Monday. (Is it appropriate I have news of a restaurant called Spin! on election day?) We have reported on the restaurant several times. It will open in a new commercial building just east of the Wal-Mart near Sixth and Wakarusa. It will be next door to another new establishment, the Blue Moose Bar & Grill.
Spin! got its start in Kansas City, and the menu was developed by Michael Smith, a James Beard award winning chef. Pizza, of course, is the featured item of the menu, but it also includes antipasti (not to be confused with antipasta, which is a position that is sure to hurt you in every poll), fresh soups, sandwiches and some Green Party creation called “salads.” The dessert menu also features something called creamy “piccolo” gelato, which is my second favorite kind of gelato. (Creamy tuba gelato is my favorite.) In case you are curious, I think piccolo refers to the 4 oz serving size.
As for the pizza, it is Neapolitan style, which means a thin crust. The restaurant, however, isn’t thin on toppings to put atop the crust. In addition to all your standard pizza toppings, the menu also includes items like shrimp scampi, goat cheese, arugula, glazed pecans, pesto, and even fig marmalade, for when you get that craving.
Lawrence’s Spin! will be owned by area businessman Brent Boles. He has decided to have the restaurant participate in a program called Token for your Kindness. The program involves giving elementary school teachers and coaches tokens that they can then give out to students who they see are doing something kind. Each token can be redeemed for a mini pizza and gelato.
“We have made it our mission to help generate kindness in Lawrence,” Boles said in a release. “With this in mind, we decided to start in our classrooms and on the playing field/court.”
• I also have burrito news. Qdoba opened its Lawrence restaurant on Monday. As we have reported, the restaurant is located just west of 23rd and Ousdahl in the spot that formerly housed a Kwik Shop.
It is the only Lawrence restaurant for the chain, although it once briefly operated in downtown Lawrence. Remember where? It is where Ingredient is now located, which of course, serves thin crusts pizza, sandwiches, salads and soups. (The food universe works in mysterious ways — and, in the process, usually ruins three of my ties a week with pizza sauce or salsa.)
As for Qdoba, I assume most of you already are familiar with the chain. It is similar to Chipoltle, but has a broader menu. In addition to the Mexican wraps and bowls, it also has tacos, nachos, quesdillas, and soups and salads served in crispy bowls you can eat.
I know one type of veterinary clinic expansion I would like to see: Some type of serum that teaches my dog that the box of Pop-Tarts on the kitchen table is mine. (I tried to electrify the box, but, come to find out, he’s more resistant to the shock than I am.) I don’t think that is what is going on, but I do have news of one of Lawrence’s oldest vet clinics expanding.
Perhaps you have noticed that work is underway at the Bradley Animal Hospital at 935 E. 23rd St. The business is expanding its animal hospital space by about 30 percent — or about 800 square feet — Dr. John Bradley told me.
Among the changes on tap are a doubling of the size of the intensive care unit and treatment area, a dedicated dental suite featuring digital dental radiography, and new equipment including a CO2 surgical laser, digital enoscopy and cystoscopy. (I’m not sure what all of that is, but I assume some of it will detect traces of cherry Pop-Tarts.)
Feline fans also are getting something out of this expansion. Bradley said the clinic’s “cat ward” is being remodeled. It will feature sound reduction walls and a larger “cat-run” area with vertical perches for lounging. The area will continue to be completely separated from the dog area.
The clinic also is making an upgrade to its fire detection system, which is an issue that has been in the news as fires have damaged a pet store and a boarding facility in the last year or so, resulting in animal deaths. Bradley said his facility has had monitoring for the last 10 years, but he’s using the renovations as a chance to upgrade the sensors, which will send alerts directly to Lawrence-Douglas County Fire-Medical.
If you remember, city commissioners in 2015 had discussions about requiring fire sprinkler systems for all animal hospitals or overnight boarding facilities, but commissioners balked at the idea after hearing concerns from veterinarians and others about the cost of retroactively installing sprinkler systems.
The exterior of the clinic, which is just a bit west of 23rd and Haskell, also will get a facelift and a new design, Bradley said.
The renovation comes at a good time. The business plans to celebrate a bit in 2017. It will celebrate its 60th anniversary in Lawrence. Bradley recalled that his parents moved to Lawrence in 1957 and purchased 1.5 acres on the eastern outskirts of town. The business operated out of a white wood-frame farm house until the existing building was constructed in 1965. Bradley came back to Lawrence 1991 to run the family business, after his dad — Dr. William “Bill” Bradley — retired.
“Business has been good,” John Bradley said of the practice, which focuses on dogs, cats and other small animals. “We have been here 60 years, and Lawrence has been really good to us in that time. This will let us stay here for a long time.”
I know in my household that the word “affordable” is one that can have varying definitions. For example, unlike some, I do not consider a 5 percent off coupon to the Coach store to be a de facto definition of the word. The extra large value bag of Doritos? No brainer. It says ‘value’ right on the bag. My struggles with the definition, though, are probably less important than the struggles city commissioners may soon have.
City Commissioner Matthew Herbert recently had an interesting post on his Facebook account about the issue of affordable housing. Herbert was the lone vote against a 50 percent tax rebate for a brewery/apartment project in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting. The project included a provision that two of the 14 new apartment units would be set aside as qualified affordable housing units with a monthly rent of $840 a month.
The gist of Herbert’s post was: Since when is $840 a month the definition of affordable for a one-bedroom apartment? Herbert, who is a public school teacher, also owns a rental business. Herbert notes that he has apartment units all over the city, including just a couple of blocks from the East Lawrence site. He said none of his properties rent for $840 for a single bedroom.
“In fact, 100 percent of my properties are half that cost or less,” Herbert said in his post. “I don’t do that to the save the world. I do that because that is the market rate.”
Now, my understanding is Herbert is more in the house rental business than the apartment rental business, so rental rates might not quite be apples to apples, so take that for whatever you think it is worth.
However, there is a housing organization that does track rental rates for apartment units in the county. The Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority lists 2016 fair market rent rates. The fair market rate for a 1-bedroom unit is $639, which also includes utilities.
So, Herbert may have a point. Why is an apartment that is about $200 above the fair market rent rate in the community considered affordable? One answer could be that because the other units in the East Lawrence project are expected to rent for $1,000 to $1,200 per month. That indeed would make the $840 unit a good deal; however, a good deal and affordable are not synonyms. I can point you to a closet full of purses and a lien on my house held by Coach to illustrate that point.
With the word “affordable” there is always the question: Affordable to whom? Different answers to that question may be what’s going on here. I talked briefly with Shannon Oury, executive director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority. She sits on the city’s affordable housing task force, which recommended approval of the East Lawrence project.
She said the units could be considered affordable because it allowed someone who makes 60 percent of Douglas County’s median income to live in the apartment and not spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Technically, it takes a household of two people in order to do that. The median income for a single person household isn’t quite great enough to stay below the 30 percent threshold.
A key part of this though is that the person makes 60 percent of Douglas County’s median income. That is not the typical person that you think of as being part of an affordable housing program. At the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, the majority of their clients make 30 percent or less of the median income. In other words, these two units are for households that make about twice as much as the typical client at the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority.
“You can kind of see that we are talking about two different groups here,” Oury said.
Maybe that group of 60 percent earners also are facing an affordable housing issue. There does seem to be less evidence of that, though. Oury’s organization can point to a substantial waiting list of people at the 30 percent and below level who are seeking housing. A key question seems to be: What is the evidence that 60 percent earners are having difficulty finding an average one-bedroom apartment that rents for about $640 a month, or $750 a month, for that matter? Census data from 2014 estimated that nearly 40 percent of all rental units in Lawrence — that’s one bedrooms to four bedrooms and beyond — rent for $750 or less.
Maybe one bedroom units priced below $840 a month are in really tight supply, but near as I can tell, there is no report out there that estimates vacancy rates for that type of apartment.
This seems to be another reminder of just how complicated of an issue city officials are wading into with affordable housing.
Now, whether this means the city shouldn’t provide a tax rebate to the East Lawrence project is a different question. Hopefully the affordable housing component wasn’t too large of a factor in the city’s vote. After all, we’re talking about two units in a town that has about 40,000 housing units. You would have to do 20 of these projects a year for 10 consecutive years to even get to 1 percent of the city’s housing units. Presumably more than 1 percent of the city’s population is facing affordable housing problems.
Hopefully, city commissioners approved the incentives because they think the project will create good economic activity in an area that needs it, and that the project wouldn’t have happened without the incentive. If the the project results in a couple of rent-reduced apartments, then that’s icing on the cake.
What would be dangerous, though, is if commissioners are approving these projects thinking they are making a significant dent in Lawrence’s affordable housing issue. Both the number of units and their rent rates may suggest otherwise.
Budding business may cause school board member to leave board early; a six-mile traffic backup; chamber elects new leaders
A budding business may cause Lawrence school board member Kris Adair to end her term on the board early, Adair has told me. Some of Adair’s comments also may spark some discussion about what Lawrence does or doesn’t do to keep budding technology companies.
As we have reported, Adair and her husband, Joshua Montgomery, are founders of the artificial intelligence company Mycroft, which is working to create a device that allows consumers to do a variety of tasks on the internet through voice-activated commands.
As we reported in October, MyCroft won a $50,000 grant as part of the LaunchKC technology competition. As part of that grant award, it also received free office space in the Crossroads District in Kansas City, Mo.
On top of that, the Kansas City-based technology website Startland recently has reported that Mycroft has opened an office in Silicon Valley, and “senior Mycroft leadership” will work out of that California office.
Adair certainly qualifies as senior leadership of the company, so that begged the question of whether she would be staying in Lawrence and completing her school board term, which expires at the end of 2017.
Adair did confirm to me that her husband, Montgomery, is working in Silicon Valley full time. She said she could not yet say with any certainty whether she would move to California before the end of her term.
“There have been no definite decisions made,” Adair said. “It really is going to depend on how things go for him.”
Adair added that she hopes she’ll be able to finish out the term.
“It has been something that has brought me a great amount of pleasure,” Adair said of serving on the school board. “I’m hoping that we will not have to move until my term is up.”
The Silicon Valley office is primarily focusing on raising venture capital and establishing business relationships with Silicon Valley’s famed tech industry. So, Adair is rooting for those efforts to go well too, which may lead to a move before her term is up.
“It all depends on how things go with Mycroft, and right now it is going better than we really anticipated.”
Either way, Adair expects there will be more travel back and forth to California. Adair’s duties with Mycroft already have created some concerns about her ability to fulfill school board responsibilities. In March, then-school board president Vanessa Sanburn suggested Adair consider resigning from the board, unless she could start attending board meetings more regularly. That suggestion followed an announcement by Adair that she would be taking “a less active role” with the board through May, and after she had been absent from various board engagements, including the final stages of the board’s search for a new superintendent.
Adair had said that her decreased level of attendance earlier in the year was related to a 90-day business accelerator program that she was participating in as part of her Mycroft duties. She told me this week her attendance at recent school board meetings has become more regular.
So, we’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out as it relates to Adair’s school board term. What seems clear, though, is Mycroft’s presence in Lawrence is coming to an end, and Montgomery and Adair’s presence seems set to.
Adair said that there are no plans to keep any part of the Mycroft operations in Lawrence.
“There is nothing really for Mycroft in Lawrence anymore,” Adair said. “We are a high-tech startup and Kansas City, Mo. really has a tremendous startup program.”
Adair continued: “We think Kansas City, Mo. is really focusing on the high tech sector that is going to be the future. Lawrence just seems to be focusing on smaller projects like apartments and hotels. That may be where a small community like this can focus.”
But Adair made it clear she thinks Lawrence can do more on its economic development front. She said the type of programs offered in Kansas City that have been helpful to Mycroft have included the LaunchKC grant program and free office space, a mentorship program at University of Missouri-Kansas City, and venture capital and other assistance from the quasi public-private Missouri Technology Corporation.
“I think Lawrence focuses more on tax abatements for economic development and less on how spending in other ways could help the community,” Adair said. “I think it is just a difference of opinion on whether you think a tax incentive is going to bring in more economic development or a grant program is going to be more beneficial.”
While Lawrence doesn’t have anything quite like the grant program being used in Kansas City, economic development leaders have made some major efforts to attract technology startups. The city, the county, the chamber, the university and the state have created partnerships to invest $20 million to build and then expand the Bioscience and Technology Incubator on KU’s West Campus. It has had good luck in attracting both startup companies and well-established companies — like Garmin — who want to be on or near the KU campus.
So, there probably will be some difference of opinion about whether Lawrence is doing enough in that regard, but certainly Adair isn’t the only one urging the community to think more creatively in the incentives it provides and the programs it offers. It is always a conversation worth keeping an ear open for.
Adair also said two other changes are likely to occur as Mycroft moves its business out of Lawrence. Adair and Montgomery are founders of Wicked Broadband, which previously was known as Lawrence Freenet. Adair confirmed the company is seeking to sell the business, although no deal is imminent. The business provides broadband service primarily to apartment complexes, fraternity and sorority houses, businesses and some residential subscribers. It has been in the news a lot over the years, primarily over disputes about whether the city should provide it grants, or low interest loans or other such assistance to expand its services in the community.
“I like to explain it this way: It is like having a child in a sense,” Adair said. “Wicked has been around for 11 years now. We feel like it is time to send it off to college.”
Adair also said it was likely that she and Montgomery would shut down the Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship that they operate in office space near Ninth and Iowa streets. The center was designed to offer low-cost office space and maker space services to startups and small companies. Adair said the center has stopped taking new members for the space.
“I see that project probably folding in the future,” Adair said.
As for Mycroft, it will be interesting to watch how that company develops. Its device is similar to devices offered by Amazon, Microsoft and others. It allows you to use voice commands and the internet to turn off lights at your home, start a coffee maker, search for answers online and a number of other tasks that are part of this new technology called the Internet-of-Things. So, Mycroft will face major competition in becoming a player in the space, but it has received some early funding, in part, because it uses an open-hardware and open-source system that allows software developers from around the world to build features that can be added onto Mycroft’s functionality.
In other news and notes from around town:
• More of an observation than anything else, but it will be interesting to watch how the new South Lawrence Trafficway function on KU basketball game nights. In particular, the east end of the road where you can exit K-10 and enter 23rd Street will be worth watching.
Last night I noticed traffic at about 6:30 p.m. — a half hour before the tipoff of last night’s KU game — was backed up from approximately Noria Road to just west of the main Eudora exit on K-10. That is about six miles that traffic was backed up on the westbound lanes. That is largely due to a long section of road being one lane due to the SLT construction. But, as several people have noted, even after the road is completed, exiting K-10 and entering 23rd Street will have to funnel down to one lane for a significant stretch.
Those of you who drive the road now know what I’m talking about. The portion of road that goes under the new bridge where Noria Road used to intersect with K-10 is one lane and doesn’t become two lanes again until about East Hills Business Park entrance. I’m guessing the one-lane stretch is a little less than a mile in length.
That stretch probably won’t create a 6-mile backup every KU basketball game, but it probably will create some back up. However, people may quickly adjust their routes to get to the fieldhouse. Instead of taking 23rd Street, motorists may find it easier to take the South Lawrence Trafficway all the way to Iowa Street and Iowa Street to the either 19th or 15th streets, which both lead to the fieldhouse.
I keep talking to people who say traffic patterns in Lawrence are going to undergo their largest changes in years once the SLT opens and people learn how to use it. As a reminder, the ribbon cutting for the road is Friday, although it won’t immediately open for traffic. A full opening is expected by Thanksgiving.
• The Lawrence chamber of commerce has announced its board members for the upcoming year. Here’s a look at the leadership positions:
— Chair: Jason Edmonds, Edmonds Duncan Registered Investment Advisors;
— Incoming Chair: Michele Hammann, SS&C Solutions;
— Treasurer: Joe Caldwell, Bartlett & West engineers
— Past Chair: Cal Karlin, Barber Emerson attorneys
— Government and Community Affairs: Beth Easter, Intrust Bank
— Communications: Kristin Eldridge, Snap Promotions
— Operations: Kirsten Flory, Colliers International
— Joint Economic Development Council: Rick Hird, Petefish, Immel, Heeb & Hird attorneys
— Leadership Lawrence: Tom Karasek, CEK Insurance
— Economic Development: Mike Orozco, US Bank
— Membership: Crystal Swearingen, McGrew Real Estate
A presidential poll that shows how different Lawrence is than the rest of Kansas; new study ranks best small cities in America
In case you hadn’t noticed, it is polling season. I think we probably agree that poll season would be more enjoyable if it involved politicians and pollsters climbing tall poles. Instead, it involves trying to predict a winner of the presidential race, which now appears is being controlled by Fidel Castro and a pair of voodoo dolls.
We reported Sunday on a statewide poll that showed Donald Trump was ahead of Hillary Clinton by 8 points in Kansas. That was before the latest pin prick, also known as the FBI’s announcement regarding new emails potentially related to its investigation of Clinton. So, the results may be different now.
But we also have a Douglas County poll on the presidential race, and it does a good job of illustrating just how different we are from the rest of the state. Among a sample of registered voters in Douglas County, Clinton is ahead of Trump by about 42 percentage points. In other words, there is a 50 point difference in Lawrence’s preference versus that of the state as a whole.
That sounds like a new bumper sticker to me: Lawrence: 50 percent different than the state of Kansas. (I know what the rest of the state is thinking. That bumper sticker will never work in Lawrence. It is too long to fit on a Prius bumper.)
Of course, all of this depends on these two polls being reasonably accurate. The statewide poll was conducted by Fort Hays State University’s Docking Institute of Public Affairs. The Douglas County poll was conducted by the Journal-World in partnership with Google Surveys. The Fort Hays State poll was a traditional telephone poll. The Journal-World poll was a form of internet polling. I guess I would label the poll as quasi-scientific. (There are science teachers choking on their cereal over such a phrase, especially the ones who know I only quasi-passed several science courses.)
The Google Survey poll is much different than a standard Internet poll that allows people to vote when they want to vote and as many times as they want to vote. Instead, Google uses a program that randomly samples a portion of the approximately 35,000 daily users of the LJWorld.com website. Users have no ability to choose whether they are asked to participate in the poll or not. The survey is presented when people click on an article, and they are asked to complete the survey before they view the article. And yes, we know some of you just quickly click on an answer to get to the article. Google factors that into its analysis by red-flagging the answers that were given very quickly.
So, since we will have election results in a week, this may be a good test to see how accurate the Google Survey poll is. As a side note, we’re conducting another one currently since it is possible the FBI story may change the race some.
Regardless, here is a look at the findings from the Douglas County poll, which ended up with a sample of about 700 registered Douglas County voters who say they are likely to vote in the upcoming election:
— 62.7 percent plan to vote for Clinton; 19.8 percent for Trump; 6.8 percent for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson; 4.3 percent for Green Party candidate Jill Stein; and 6.4 percent plan to vote for none of the above.
— In the U.S. Senate race, 62.8 percent plan to vote for Democrat Patrick Wiesner; 26.3 percent for Republican Sen. Jerry Moran; 6.7 percent for Libertarian Robert D. Garrard; and 4.2 percent for none of the above.
— In the 2nd Kansas Congressional district race, 61.5 percent plan to vote for Democrat Britani Potter; 26.2 percent for Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins; 8 percent for Libertarian James Houston Bales; and 4.2 percent for none of the above.
— And when respondents were asked to rate their level of confidence that the election process in Kansas will produce results that accurately reflect the will of the voters, 60 percent of respondents ranked their confidence level 7 or higher on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest confidence. Just under 30 percent ranked their confidence level a 3 or below.
As for the presidential results, if Clinton does win about 63 percent of the Douglas County vote, that would be in line with past results. Obama won 60 percent of the Douglas County vote in 2012 and 64 percent in 2008. The difference comes on the Republican side. Trump’s 20 percent showing would be well below other Republicans in past elections. Romney in 2012 won nearly 36 percent of the Douglas County vote, while McCain won 33 percent in 2008.
Related stories — Journal-World Voter Guide: 2016 Douglas County ballot
In other news and notes from around town:
• This may not mean much more to you than any of the presidential polls, but there is a new report out that attempts to rank about 1,000 small cities in the U.S., and Lawrence is on it.
The folks at the financial website WalletHub ranked 1,268 cities with a population between 25,000 and 100,000 using primarily Census data and other federal statistics to measure income, housing, health and other categories.
Lawrence ranked in the 34th percentile of the study. Top-ranked communities are in the 99th percentile. Average cities are in the 50th percentile. So, the 34th percentile is in the bottom half of the ranking. Interestingly, we ranked last among all the Kansas communities ranked.
However, Lawrence ranked in the top 20 percent in the country in several categories including: economic health, No. 183; education and health No. 198 and quality of life No. 229. Lawrence received an incomplete in the category of safety rank. I’m guessing that is because the WalletHub folks couldn’t find Lawrence’s crime statistics on the FBI site. When we did our report on Lawrence crime trends, we couldn’t find information on the FBI site either. We had to get the data from the Kansas Bureau of Investigations.
The area where Lawrence performed poorly, though was in the “affordability rank.” We ranked No. 910 out of 1,268. More on that in a moment. But first, here is a look at how other Kansas communities ranked overall in the report.
— Leawood: 99th percentile
— Shawnee: 92nd percentile
— Lenexa: 88th percentile
— Salina: 60th percentile
— Dodge City: 59th percentile
— Leavenworth: 51st percentile
— Hutchinson: 50th percentile
— Garden City: 46th percentile
— Manhattan: 40th percentile
— Lawrence: 34th percentile
I’m dubious about some of the findings of this report. I’m pretty confident there are several cities on this Kansas list that would trade overall situations with Lawrence today. Lawrence and Manhattan both may be hurt some by being college communities and naturally having some income statistics that are skewed downward by the large number of students who don’t earn much at this point in their lives.
But, the affordability issue is one that is drawing a lot of attention from Lawrence leaders. This report actually serves as a good reminder about how differently affordability can be viewed. Any guesses on what the third most affordable small city in America is, according to this report? Answer: Leawood.
Let me assure you home prices in Leawood are far higher than they are in Lawrence. By my calculations, the average wage earner in Lawrence could afford a home in Leawood as long as the human body can withstand giving about 182 quarts of plasma per day.
The median value of a home in Leawood is $210,000 more than the median value of a home in Lawrence. Leawood’s median home checks in at about $388,000. But the median household income in Leawood is also about $87,000 more than it is in Lawrence. Leawood’s median income checks in at about $134,000.
So, while it is still a little tough to hear affordable and Leawood together, the report does highlight that affordability doesn’t necessarily hinge on how much a home costs, but rather how much you have left over after you pay your housing expenses.
That means there are a couple of different ways to address affordability. You can look at lowering how much homes sell for, work to increase the amount people earn, or some combination of the two. Lawrence leaders understand that equation. Doing any of those things on a large scale, though, is difficult. Lawrence leaders have a lot to think about to truly find an answer for Lawrence’s affordability issues.
When I was a student walking around KU, I know what I always hoped to find “at the top of the hill”: an oxygen tank. Instead, I would find the Jayhawk Bookstore, which thanks to a long-running advertising jingle, everyone knew was “at the top of the hill." The bookstore is no longer open, which has left many wondering what will take its place. There is some news on that front.
As we reported in June, the Jayhawk Bookstore closed its doors for good as textbook sales continued to decline. The property at 1420 Crescent Road — it is just west of the Chi Omega fountain and the main entrance to Jayhawk Boulevard — had no shortage of interested buyers. A Kansas City based equity firm, though, is the group that has finalized a deal to purchase the prime piece of real estate.
Axiom Equities, an investment firm that has about a $200 million portfolio of strategic real estate investments, has closed on the property and now is figuring out what to do with it.
“It is a front and center location in Lawrence,” said Ben Kalny, co-founder of Axiom. “Whatever happens on the site needs to fit with the neighborhood. Our general posture is to lease the property in the near term with an eye on long-term optimization.”
The company is fielding multiple offers from potential tenants for the approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial space. That includes conversations with restaurants, coffee shops, retailers and others. The building has about 2,300 square feet of apartment space on its upper floor. That use will continue.
“The range is pretty broad at this point,” Kalny said of potential commercial tenants. “It really has to be the right fit. It is important to us that the end result is something the university is proud of and that we can be proud of.”
Whether one user takes the entire space, or multiple tenants fill the property, is unknown at this point. Mike O’Connell, acquisitions manager for Axiom, said a timeline for reaching deals with tenants also is uncertain. Axiom is still in the evaluation stage. Axiom has contracted with Allison Vance Moore of Lawrence’s Colliers International office to market the property to prospective tenants.
It is pretty easy to see how a restaurant could be part of the mix. The Kansas Union provides quite a bit of food options on the other end of Jayhawk Boulevard, but there are fewer such options on the western end. Imagine a Chick-fil-A or some other restaurant basically just a stone’s throw from all those fraternity and sorority houses. You might need to create a special route for the Brinks truck and add a defibrillator or two.
The more interesting item, however, may be the talk of “long-term optimization.” That could mean a complete redevelopment of the site. The property is intriguing not just because of its location but also its zoning. The property has the city’s mixed-use zoning designation, which means it can house a combination of residential, commercial and office development. That zoning designation is key because it gives the development group multiple paths forward without having to go through a full-blown zoning battle at City Hall.
Kalny said a redevelopment of the site, about a half-acre, is possible.
“I expect we will have dialogue with folks who have ideas along those lines,” Kalny said. “With what is going on with campus right now, my goodness, it is really impressive. We would be remiss if we didn’t entertain the notion of a higher and better use. But it would have to be the right use too.”
Any redevelopment at that location likely would be watched closely. The bookstore site is adjacent to the West Hills neighborhood, which traditionally has served as a home to lots of university professors and administrators. I know the neighborhood was pretty active in the City Hall proceedings that resulted in the mixed-use zoning for the property. Neighbors raised some concerns about what that zoning designation could allow in the future.
Kalny said he understands any redevelopment of the site is going to have to include significant conversations with the neighborhood.
“We know we have a terrific neighborhood next door,” Kalny said.
So, that’s something to keep an eye on. In the meantime, I’ll let you know when I hear more about potential tenants for the building.
A shakeup at local United Way; a new beer event for Lawrence; an update on Bowersock power plant; downtown trick-or treat set
There is a brief bit of important news on the social service front today. The No. 1 and No. 2 leaders of the local United Way have submitted their resignations.
Erika Dvorske, CEO of the United Way of Douglas County, and Colleen Gregoire, vice president of resource development for the organization, submitted their resignations at a board meeting Thursday night, according to an email from the United Way.
Dvorske will stay on board through the end of January, while Gregoire will step down at the end of the year. The email said Dvorske plans to do consulting work for nonprofits while Gregoire will pursue “creative interests and other career opportunities.”
I don’t have any more details than those. Obviously, the joint resignation of the top two leaders of the organization will create some questions among the public. We’re putting calls out to various people to provide you a more complete report later today.
• Drink craft beer and get to know your watershed. No, that is not some odd euphemism for the strain beer sometimes puts on your bladder. Instead, it is the theme of a new beer festival in downtown Lawrence — and the latest reminder that Lawrence really will find any excuse to get together to share some suds.
A unique fundraiser is coming up for the Friends of the Kaw group. On Nov. 6, the organization will host its first Beers of the Kaw beer festival at Abe & Jake’s Landing in Downtown Lawrence. The idea is simple, if not unusual: Invite breweries that are located in the Kansas River watershed to bring their beers to Lawrence for a festival.
If you don’t know what a watershed is, congratulations. Those of us who have had to sit through drainage board meetings or listen to a storm water engineer know that a watershed is the area that collects and drains water into, in this case, a river. Think of it this way: A drop of rain falls, the drop drains into a stream, the stream flows in a creek, and the creek dumps into the Kansas River. The land that the drop of water first touched is in the Kansas River watershed, and so are the stream and the creek.
“So many people don’t even know what a watershed is,” said Sarah Hill-Nelson, leader of the Bowersock Mills and Power Company, which operates a hydroelectric power plant on the portion of the Kansas River that flows along downtown Lawrence.
And, as has been well documented, beer is excellent at helping people understand complex topics, which is why the public has turned to it in large quantities while watching this year’s presidential debates.
Well, maybe I’m confused on some of that, but one thing that is clear is the Kansas River watershed is big. The watershed covers about 53,000 square miles. In Colorado it stretches nearly to Limon, in Nebraska it goes north of Hastings, and it ranges almost to McPherson to the south of here.
Come to find out, there are several breweries in that large area. The upcoming event will have nine of them:
— Free State Brewing Company, Lawrence
— 23rd Street Brewery, Lawrence
— Yankee Tank Brewing Company, Lawrence
— Boulevard Brewing Co, Kansas City
— Blind Tiger Brewery, Topeka
— Kansas Territory Brewing Co, Washington
— Tallgrass Brewing Company, Manhattan
— Blue Skye Brewery, Salina
— LB Brewing Company, Hays
Tickets for the event cost $20 and can be bought online at abejakes.com or in person at Sunflower Outdoor & Bike in downtown Lawrence. Proceeds will go to Friends of the Kaw, the nonprofit group that works to care for the river and educate the public about it.
In addition to the beer tastings, the event will have three local food vendors on site: Drasko's Food Truck, Fine Thyme Food and Terrebonne Cafe. Organizers are hoping the Beers of the Kaw event catches on and that attendees get a bit more out of it than the food and the beer.
“If a drop of water fell in eastern Colorado and it wasn’t used for irrigation, it would eventually flow by the Bowersock Dam in Lawrence,” Hill-Nelson said. “We’ve been thinking about the importance of clean water, and we thought if we showed them the beers of the watershed, that might be a fun way to get their attention.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• You may remember that about a year ago we reported Hill-Nelson’s new hydroelectric power plant along the Kaw was facing some serious challenges.
We reported the four generators in the power plant on the north side of the Bowersock Dam weren’t working well at all, and that combined with sparse rains had the plant producing little electricity.
Hill-Nelson, though, told me this week that the plant is in a much better position.
“July and August were the best months we’ve ever had,” Hill-Nelson said.
Hill-Nelson said she ended up making a big decision to have two of the four units removed from the plant, refurbished in Idaho and re-installed. Plus, Mother Nature has been cooperating. River flows have been just right — strong enough to turn the turbines but not so strong as to create dangerously high water levels that force the plant to shut down.
“The big questions we were facing really have been eliminated,” Hill-Nelson said. “Now it i just tweaking and having good water. We have good water right now. We’ll produce twice as much power as we did last year.”
The new power plant, along with Bowersock’s historic plant on the south side of the Kansas River, have a contract to produce power for the Kansas City, Kan., Board of Public Utilities. The power plants are an example of economic development in its truest sense: A Lawrence product is used to generate revenues that come from people who live outside the community.
While Lawrence residents ship plenty of dollars to Kansas City, it is nice to know that with at least some households in Kansas City, they send some money back to Lawrence every time they turn on a light switch.
• I may dress up as a watershed for Halloween. After all, it sounds like they have lots of beer. Whatever you dress up as, you can parade the costume around in downtown Lawrence. Leaders of Downtown Lawrence Inc. have announced that member businesses once again will be handing out candy to children on Halloween, which is Monday.
Businesses plan to begin hosting trick-or-treaters at 5 p.m. and will continue until the candy runs out. Downtown Lawrence Inc. advises businesses to buy 500 to 1,000 pieces of candy. (What? Buy a 1,000 pieces of candy? Who doesn’t have 1,000 pieces of candy lying around?)
In addition to the trick-or-treating, Watkins Museum will be hosting a scavenger hunt. The Lawrence Police Department also will be at 11th and Massachusetts with a vehicle, giveaway and fun information about the department, according to DLI.
New fabric and craft retailer opens in south Lawrence; sales taxes continue to surge, while questions persist about SLT shopping center
Nothing says fall like pumpkin spice and a head-to-toe wardrobe of fleece. There is obviously no shortage of pumpkin spice, as intravenous drip bags of it are now available on every corner. But I do have news on the fleece front. A national chain fabric and craft retailer has opened along south Iowa Street.
Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store has opened its Lawrence location in the shopping center at 27th and Iowa streets. The store officially opened at 9 a.m. Thursday with a ribbon-cutting and several giveaways. Apparently there are people who love fleece even more than I do (or perhaps they thought there was a pumpkin spice giveaway) because there was a line outside the store of several dozen people about a half-hour before opening.
Whatever the case was, the competition level in the fabric and craft world has increased in Lawrence. Jo-Ann occupies the space that formerly housed Hancock Fabric, a national chain that went bankrupt. Hancock primarily was a fabric and sewing store. Jo-Ann has a full line of fabrics and sewing supplies, but also has a larger inventory of crafting items. I got to take a special pre-opening walk through the store (it may or may not have ended prematurely when I rolled in a pile of fleece). Among the categories of crafting items were scrapbooking items, food crafts like cookie cutters, holiday decoration kits, craft paints and several other categories.
The store is broader than Hancock’s but not as large as Hobby Lobby and Michaels, the two large craft and fabric superstores in town.
In addition to the numerous customer giveaways, local schools are set to get something from the store. The company plans to provide a $2,000 grant to one school in the community, according to a press release from the company.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe it was pumpkin spice sales. Maybe it was fleece sales. Hold the phone, could it be sales of pumpkin spice-scented fleece? Surely not, but something continues to have retail spending in Lawrence on a hot streak.
The latest one-month report from the Kansas Department of Revenue shows Lawrence sales tax collections are up 11 percent compared with the same one-month period a year ago. The report was the October report, but that’s not really when the sales were made. Because of the delay in sales tax reporting, the sales are more likely reflective of activity in August.
The 11 percent increase is impressive; the city collected about $220,000 more in sales tax during that one month than it did the previous year. But at this point, such an increase is not all that surprising. Sales tax collections in Lawrence have been really strong for pretty much the entire year. As we have reported month after month, Lawrence has seen the most robust sales tax growth of any of the major retail markets in the state. That continues to be the case.
Year to date, Lawrence sales tax collections are up 6.1 percent compared with the same period a year ago. Thus far, Lawrence has collected about $1.2 million more in sales tax revenues than it did during the same period a year ago. Importantly, the 6 percent growth is far exceeding what the city budgeted to receive in 2016. The city budgeted for a 3.7 percent increase. If my abacus is working correctly, the city has about $470,000 more in sales tax revenues than it expected to receive, and that number could grow more before the end of the year.
Here’s a look at how Lawrence’s sales tax collections stack up to some of the other large retail centers in the state:
— Lawrence: up 6.1 percent
— Olathe: up 3.6 percent
— Topeka: up 3.4 percent
— Overland Park: up 2.5 percent
— Manhattan: up 2.3 percent
— Kansas City: up 1.7 percent
— Johnson County: up 1.6 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 1.3 percent
— Lenexa: down 3.6 percent
One of the more interesting questions in town continues to be why are sales tax collections up so much? It is a bit of a guessing game, but the city does try to analyze each month’s reports. The city hasn’t yet released its report for this most recent batch of sales tax data, but the analysis for last month’s data is available. It shows the same thing we have seen most of the year. Three areas of the economy are performing pretty well. Sales taxes collected on building materials are up 25 percent; sales taxes from retail stores are up 9 percent; and sales taxes from grocery stores and other food and beverage stores are up 6 percent.
As we have noted before, Menards — a major seller of building supplies — is a new entrant into the market. That certainly could be playing a role in the increase in that category. Evidence continues to mount that there were people leaving the community to buy building supplies and now they are keeping more of those dollars at home.
You also could argue that the addition of Dick’s Sporting Goods, Ulta Beauty, The Boot Barn and PetSmart at 27th and Iowa streets has helped boost the retail totals. But it can’t be said definitely. It could just be sales of pumpkin spice chewing gum at Wal-Mart. It could just be that Lawrence’s slightly better population growth of the last few years is paying off.
Whatever is happening, though, is eye-catching. Add that to the pending completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway — it is scheduled to open by Thanksgiving — and you can see why Lawrence may be drawing some good interest from retailers who want to be in the market.
But, for all those positives, the city also has to contend with what potential retailers must surely view as a negative: a lawsuit over potential retail development at the intersection of the South Lawrence Trafficway and U.S. Highway 59.
As we have reported, a shopping center was proposed for the site, with thoughts that it would bring everything from an Old Navy to Designer Shoe Warehouse. The property already is in the city limits. The city’s long-range growth plans label the area as being appropriate for “auto-related” commercial development. It is not entirely clear what that means, but it is different from plain old regular commercial development. A debate ensued, the project gets rejected by the City Commission, and a lawsuit is filed by the out-of-state development group. That lawsuit is still in its early stages.
The City Commission’s rejection of that project in January left a lot of uncertainty about what is the appropriate use for that very high-profile piece of property. Nearly 11 months later, none of that uncertainty has been cleared up. Once the lawsuit was filed, city officials have hardly uttered a peep about what the future of that land should be.
Think about this: The South Lawrence Trafficway project has been more than two decades in the making. Now that it is completed, we don’t know what we want to have happen at its premiere intersection.
The iron is hot, but it seems that the community is paralyzed on whether to pick up a hammer to strike it.
Worries about the future of Lawrence’s Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade; a new amenity for Downtown Farmers’ Market
You should never need an excuse to break out the cowboy hat and yell “Hi Ho Silver,” but you again will have one. The Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade for the 24th year will be in downtown Lawrence this holiday season. But organizers are in need of some silver — and not just horses with that name. (Confused younger generation: Google the phrase “Lone Ranger,” and let’s all vow to work the phrase “hi ho” into more conversations.)
The parade is set for 11 a.m. on Dec. 3 and will follow the same route as usual, with the prime viewing locations being along Massachusetts Street between Seventh and 13th streets. For those of you unfamiliar with the parade, it is one of the few entirely horse-drawn parades in the country. Horses, wagons, carriages, buggies and surreys (confused younger generation: none of us know what a surrey is either) come from all over the Midwest, and many of them are decked out with their finest Christmas ornamentation.
There was a bit of a rumor that the parade wouldn’t take place this year. That was never true, but there is worry about the financial future of the parade. Unfortunately, financial worry about the parade has become commonplace in recent years. But this year’s worry comes with a different twist.
Back in 2014, I reported that the parade was facing financial difficulties after its prime corporate sponsor pulled out. But then an anonymous donor came riding in on a white horse with a pledge of $5,000 per year for the next three years. The donor, however, didn’t make the pledge directly to the parade, which never has organized as a 501(c)3, but instead made the pledge to the Lawrence Arts Center. The Arts Center passed the money along, had its name added to the parade’s marketing materials, and all was good.
But then in July, parade organizers received an email from then Arts Center CEO Susan Tate notifying them that the $5,000 donation would not be available this year. The letter made no mention of the anonymous donor, but rather bemoaned a cut in Arts Center funding proposed by City Manager Tom Markus. Tate labeled the cut to the Arts Center funding as “unnecessary,” and said it showed “little awareness on the part of the city that the Arts Center is an enthusiastic and generous partner in many outside efforts that enhance quality of life, economic development and awareness of our cultural district.” For good measure, Tate’s letter also criticized the Journal-World’s coverage of the proposed cut.
All that was a lead-up to notification that the parade would not receive the $5,000 donation. Parade organizers, though, were confused. They thought the anonymous donor had specifically earmarked the donation for support of the parade.
Marty Kennedy, the former Lawrence mayor who is one of the organizers of the parade, said he reached out to the Arts Center but the Arts Center was in transition — Tate was in the process of leaving and new CEO Kimberly Williams was in the process of arriving — and he didn’t hear much.
I reached out to the Arts Center recently and got more clarification. After doing some checking, chief communications officer Sarah Bishop told me that the anonymous donor changed the earmark on his donation after learning of the center’s approximately $55,000 cut in city funding.
“The donor stipulated that the donation stay with the Arts Center,” Bishop said.
Upon learning that, parade organizer Patty Kennedy told me she was understanding. And to be clear, parade organizers were more confused than angry at the Arts Center. And for their part, Arts Center officials say they are sad that they aren’t able to donate to the parade this year.
“The $55,000 cut in city funding made it hard for us to do some of the extra things that we do,” Bishop said. “We love the parade and really value it, but it is not essential to our operations. We have had to repurpose that money. But we would love to find a way to support it in the future.”
All that aside, the parade is facing an unexpected $5,000 deficit. The shortfall won’t sink this year’s parade because it has some reserves that it can use to put on the event that costs about $30,000 in actual cash and another $20,000 in donated services. (The parade draws a large number of participants because it undertakes the expense of providing a hotel room, a meal and horse boarding to each participant.)
The funding concern is mainly related to the 2017 parade. If this year’s parade depletes all its reserves this year, it could be in a perilous position for 2017. Plus, this year’s parade only has about 15 of the normal 60 small business and individual sponsors that it normally receives, although the solicitation process isn’t yet complete. (That’s a nice way of saying potential donors are still likely to get a few more calls.)
“To make up the $5,000 that we’ve lost, we would need to get about 20 more individual sponsors,” Patty Kennedy said. “Quite frankly, I don’t know where we are going to come up with 20 more sponsors.”
The parade does receive $8,000 in transient guest tax money from the city of Lawrence. The parade has asked for $10,000 in guest tax funds, but didn’t have its request fully funded during the 2016 cycle.
Marty Kennedy said parade organizers would rather find a major corporate sponsor than ask for more city funding.
“I know the city doesn’t want us using that guest tax fund every year,” Kennedy said. “They would like us to find that corporate sponsor.”
The parade at various times had had a bank and a financial services firm serve as lead sponsors for the parade. But finding a major corporate sponsor has been difficult. Lawrence is lots of things, but a town with lots of large corporations, it is not.
Seeking more money from the city’s guest tax fund seems like a possibility. The parade always draws tens of thousands of people to downtown Lawrence. How many of them stay the night in a hotel room and thus pay the guest tax is a little unclear. Parade organizers said they hope to gather better data about that this year.
The city has a relatively new grant application program for events seeking guest tax funding. It has a $15,000 cap on how much any one event can receive. That cap didn’t receive much public discussion, but perhaps should have. I think there may be some questions of philosophy on how that fund should be used. Among them:
— There is a belief that the guest tax fund should be used to fund events that generate lots of hotel bookings, since hotel stays are what produces the guest tax revenue. There’s some logic to that, but there’s a counter argument too. If we used that logic with regular old sales tax collections, we would only use sales tax money to fund things that produced more retail spending. The city certainly hasn’t taken that approach with sales tax dollars. Even if the Christmas parade doesn’t put a lot of heads in hotel beds, it undoubtedly helps build the image of Lawrence as a unique and vibrant community. That image, more than any one event, is probably the most valuable asset to the Lawrence tourism industry.
— City officials need to decide whether the guest tax grant program is meant to simply be an incubator for new events. In other words, is the grant program designed to provided some needed seed money to new events? That’s one idea. Another would be that the grant program is used to significantly support a handful of signature events in the community. Determining what is a signature event probably would be a messy political process. The parade certainly doesn’t have the market cornered in that regard. As we have reported, the Arts Center’s Free State Festival is worried about its funding future too. There would be no shortage of events that believe they should be considered a signature event worthy of city funding. Truth be told, there is no shortage of events in Lawrence today. There is a shortage of businesses able to fund them all.
Where that leaves funding for future parades is unclear. Those of you wanting to make a donation to the parade can do so by getting in contact with Marty or Patty Kennedy at Lawrence’s Kennedy Glass.
For those of you wanting to take my advice and Google the Lone Ranger, I have bad news: My wife has discovered Johnny Depp was in the 2013 Lone Ranger movie. The internet may be tied up for awhile.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Well, we know where horses go to the bathroom at in downtown Lawrence, but I’m pretty sure they are the only ones that can get away with that. Attendees of downtown’s Lawrence Farmers' Market have good news on that front. For the first time in it its history, the Farmers' Market now has nice bathrooms for patrons and vendors.
As part of the recently completed 888 Lofts building at Eighth and New Hampshire street, the Lawrence-based development group First Management Construction agreed to install first-floor bathrooms that would be open to the patrons of the Farmers' Market. The market operates in the city-owned parking lot adjacent to the new apartment/office building.
The market held a ribbon-cutting last weekend for the bathrooms. As far as I know it is one of the very few ribbon-cuttings that used toilet paper in place of the ribbon.
The market previously could only offer portable toilets on site. Leaders of the Farmers' Market said they’re excited about the addition.
“This is not just a celebration of some new bathrooms. It is also a celebration of how a business does something special for our community,” said Olivia Taylor-Puckett, manager of the Farmers' Market. “Real bathrooms may seem like a simple addition to the market, but this is of great support to our vendors and customers. The more people feel comfortable coming to the market, the more they stay and bring their business to local farmers.”
After a week of vacation, I’ve got hotels on my mind and my credit card. (I learned that in southern California you’ll spend $70 to park your rental car at the hotel. But, on the bright side, it didn’t cost me anything other than blood pressure medicine to park for hours at a time on the freeway system.) All this is to say I’ve got a few more details on Lawrence’s latest hotel project.
We reported in August that a deal was in the works for a new hotel to be built in eastern Lawrence where Don’s Steakhouse used to be near 23rd and O’Connell. But back then details were slim on what hotel was coming to the location. Well, I’ve now learned that a Country Inn & Suites is slated to go on the property.
Area businessman Mark Gwaltney, who is leading the development group, confirmed that the hotel chain has approved moving ahead with the project. Country Inn & Suites is kind of a late entrant to the project. Back in August, Gwaltney had told city officials that he was working with the large IHG hotel group on an extended-stay hotel, which led to speculation that IHG was bringing its Candlewood Suites brand to town.
But my understanding now is that IHG has a different Lawrence location in mind for that project. If you remember, we’ve also reported that the former Ramada Inn site near Sixth and Iowa streets is looking for a new hotel brand. A Candlewood could be a real possibility for that site.
As for Country Inn & Suites, it is part of the hotel group that has the various Radisson brand of hotels. The company describes Country Inn & Suites as an “upper midscale” hotel. Plans filed at City Hall call for a three-story building and 89 hotel rooms, plus a separate structure for an indoor pool. According to the hotel chain’s website, other amenities include a fitness center, free high-speed internet, free cookies and, importantly, complimentary hot breakfasts. (No, breakfast was not complimentary at my Disneyland hotel, and Donald Duck did not take it as a compliment when I asked if he came with orange sauce.)
The site plan application filed at City Hall lists the project to have about a $5.5 million construction value.
Gwaltney said he hopes to break ground on the project before the end of the year, but said that may be optimistic. The project will occupy the site where Don’s Steakhouse previously was located, which is on the north side 23rd Street, just west of O’Connell. The project also will demolish the old Diamond Everley Roofing headquarters, which is just east of the Don’s Steakhouse business.
Plans filed at City Hall show that portion of the property housing a restaurant. Gwaltney confirmed no deal has been struck for a restaurant yet. He said now that the hotel company has committed to the project, they’ll start reaching out to potential restaurant operators. He said they’ll look at both sit-down restaurants and fast food chains for the location.
Gwaltney is predicting the area around 23rd and O’Connell will change quite a bit in the future. He said he’s trying to get ahead of the changes by redeveloping the old Diamond Everley site — he’s an executive with that company — and the old steakhouse property.
“I just envision the area becoming more of a hub, more like what you would see on south Iowa Street or Sixth Street,” Gwaltney said. “I think the whole area is going to see a lot of renovation. I think the land will become more valuable than many of the old businesses that are on it.”
Others are thinking that way too. In recent weeks, the old Knights of Columbus building has again been listed on the market. As we reported last year, the Knights closed its longtime banquet facility that is just north and east of 23rd and O’Connell. The approximately two-acre property had been on the market, but then the for-sale signs disappeared. They have now reappeared. I talked briefly with Lance Johnson, the commercial broker listing the property. He said no deal is imminent, but said the changing nature of the area should attract interest in the property.
Both the Knights of Columbus property and the proposed hotel site are adjacent to the city’s new Venture Park business park, which is one of the reasons that Gwaltney said a hotel development makes sense for the site. But what is more likely to spark development in the area is the pending opening of the eastern leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway next month.
Others have been predicting new development near the 23rd and O’Connell intersection for quite awhile. A development group led by Doug Compton and Bill Newsome helped build the development at the southeast corner of the intersection that houses Tractor Supply. The development has additional space for retailers — a grocery store has long been on the wish list — but the project has failed to attract any new tenants since Tractor Supply came to the site more than five years ago.
One of the reasons why that development hasn’t taken off is because there are still lots of open green fields near the site. But that may be changing. It will be interesting to see if an eastside housing boom takes place on the large amounts of open land west of O’Connell Road.
Already construction work is underway on apartments on the east side of O’Connell Road, a bit south of 23rd Street. Lawrence businessman Roger Johnson also has begun building homes in a new subdivision west of O’Connell Road behind Tractor Supply and a bit west of the Douglas County Jail. I’ve had real estate agents tell me those homes will sell well because they can come in at lower price points than homes in west Lawrence.
There’s lots of open land west of O’Connell Road. The area will be more accessible when the eastern interchange of the SLT opens just a few blocks away. Some of you remember when the eastern part of Lawrence went through a housing boom in the 1990s and the Prairie Park neighborhood was created. That neighborhood was billed as working-class homes that were more affordable than what was being built further west. As affordable housing becomes the buzz phrase at City Hall, we’ll see whether developers turn to eastern Lawrence again.
Report predicts biggest jump in years for Lawrence home prices; date set for SLT ribbon cutting; update on local’s effort to win Kelly Ripa contest
I once was in the market for a beachfront home. I told the realtor my price range. I was encouraged when she didn’t laugh. I was less encouraged when she showed me a blanket. Lawrence’s real estate market hasn’t reached that extreme, but realtors are seeing significant price increases. A new report is predicting even more in 2017.
Home prices in Lawrence are expected to finish 2016 up 5.1 percent, and are predicted to rise another 4.1 percent in 2017, according to a new report from the Wichita State University Center for Real Estate.
Lawrence hasn’t seen that type of growth in home prices in quite some time. Since 2012, the average annual increase in Lawrence home prices has been just 0.8 percent. Rising home prices are consistent with what local real estate agents have been reporting throughout 2016: the supply of homes is in short supply, thus prices are rising.
The WSU report, which was delivered to the Lawrence Board of Realtors on Thursday, confirmed that trend. The report called Lawrence’s supply of homes for sale “incredibly tight.” The trend of an undersupply of homes isn’t a new one for Lawrence. The report highlighted that the number of homes available for sale in Lawrence has consistently trailed the national average since 2014.
The spike in home prices will create several questions. Perhaps the largest is whether Lawrence homebuilders will increase their pace of building. Even as home sales have increased in Lawrence in recent years, the number of new single family homes under construction has remained pretty flat, or has fallen in some years. The report predicts 2016 will finish relatively flat — 225 new housing starts in Lawrence and Douglas County compared to 221 in 2015. The report is predicting a slight decline in 2017 to 220 single family housing starts.
That’s in contrast to what is happening in the Kansas City market. As home sales increase in the metro, so too has home construction. Kansas City home starts are estimated to rise by 22 percent in 2016, and another 4 percent in 2017.
The report wasn’t real clear on why Lawrence home construction isn’t surging more, but in my talks with some real estate professionals, I hear a couple of factors. Local homebuilders still remember the pain that the recession created and are being cautious. Plus, Carl Cline, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, said there is probably an even more practical reason the numbers haven’t surged.
“We only have so many builders, and so many builders can only build so many homes,” Cline said. “We lost a large number of builders in the financial debacle.”
But I also hear that the average price point of a new home in Lawrence is making it tough on builders.
For example, through August, the median selling price of a newly constructed home in Lawrence was $314,450. The median selling price for an existing home was $171,000. That’s a big gap, and I’ve had real estate agents tell me buyers may not be seeing enough value in new homes. That may change, though, if the price of existing homes rise but builders are able to keep the price of new homes relatively steady. It also will be interesting to see if builders undertake more projects outside of west Lawrence neighborhoods, which traditionally come with some pretty big price tags. New construction out near 23rd and O’Connell in eastern Lawrence, for example, won’t be producing many homes of more than $300,000.
There is one other important reason to keep an eye on home prices. If home prices do increase at the rates predicted by the WSU report, that would make it more likely that homeowners will see higher assessed values on their property tax bills.
The Douglas County Appraiser’s office is tasked with determining what the fair market value of every home in the county is as of Jan. 1. That work is underway. Property owners will receive change of value notices in March. For the last several years, tax values for most properties haven’t gone up much. Now, tax bills have still increased in many cases because several governments have increased their property tax rates, i.e. mill levies.
Property owners from the 1990s and early 2000s, though, still remember when tax values often did rise by 5 percent or more. If that happens, and mill levies continue to rise, that would be a double whammy for taxpayers. But, I still think it is too early to predict that tax values actually will rise by 5 percent.
The Douglas County Appraiser’s most recent report had mixed signals on that front. The report said the office had analyzed all the sales made during the first half of 2016. It compared the selling price of those homes to the tax value that had been assigned to those homes. The selling prices were, on average, about 1.7 percent higher than the tax values. That would indicate some upward adjustment of tax values may be warranted, but that’s quite a bit less than 5 percent.
The appraiser’s report, though, did note that it also had evaluated the selling prices of some homes through the end of August. That analysis found the selling price of an average three-bedroom, two-bath home with 1,300 to 1,800 square feet was $184,987. That’s up 9.5 percent from the same time period a year ago. What the data shows in the next few months probably will be key in determining how much tax values rise.
Other findings from the WSU report include:
— Home sales in Lawrence and Douglas County are expected to finish 2016 at about 1,400 homes, up about 1 percent from 2015 totals. Home sales for 2017 are predicted to come in at 1,510 units, which would be about an 8 percent increase.
— Mortgage rates are predicted to remain low through 2017, with rates for a 30-year mortgage predicted to remain below 4.5 percent. While 4.5 percent is historically very low, that would represent an increase. Mortgage rates for 30-year loans are closer to 3.5 percent nationally.
The WSU report also provided projections for other Kansas communities. Those include:
— Kansas City: Sales growth of 4.4 percent, and an increase of 4.2 percent in home prices in 2017.
— Manhattan: Sales growth of 6 percent and an increase of 4.7 percent in home prices in 2017.
— Topeka: Sales growth of 2 percent and an increase of 1.9 percent in home prices in 2017.
— Wichita: Sales growth of 5 percent and an increase of 3.5 percent in home prices in 2017.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I’ve gotten word that a date has been set for the ribbon cutting of the eastern leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway. KDOT plans to have a ribbon cutting at 10 a.m. on Nov. 4 near the eastern end of the SLT, or near the intersection of E 1750 Road, which is also known as Noria Road.
Do not, however, plan to start driving on the SLT right away. My understanding is the road won’t actually open to traffic on Nov. 4. KDOT is still saying the road will open before Thanksgiving, but an exact date hasn’t been set. The road looks largely completed, but there is some ancillary work still being done on the site. Also, KDOT has said it wants to make various safety improvements to the intersection of the SLT and Kasold Drive extended. That intersection is on the western portion of the SLT, which has long been open. KDOT officials, though, expect traffic on the western leg of the SLT to increase significantly once the eastern leg of the trafficway is open. Thus, KDOT wants to complete those improvements before the eastern leg opens. Those improvements shouldn’t take long — they involve some barriers to limit turning motions — but work hasn’t yet started on that project.
Expect the ribbon cutting on Nov. 4 to be a big deal. The SLT project has been in the works for more than two decades, has been the subject of at least two major federal lawsuits, and many more protests. It also has been touted as one of the most important regional transportation projects for the state, providing a more direct route from Topeka to Johnson County. Look for the road to change traffic patterns in Lawrence significantly. It already is creating development pressure, evidenced by the new and proposed retail development along south Iowa Street.
U.S. Sen Pat Roberts, as we reported, was in Lawrence Thursday. In a brief conversation I had with him, he told me he plans to attend the ribbon cutting. His office was instrumental in securing federal funding for the project. Roberts estimated he worked a good 11 years on funding issues for the road. Given that, he said he knows what one of his messages will be at the ribbon cutting.
“Sometimes you just have to be persistent,” Roberts said.
Roberts said he remains convinced that the trafficway will play a key role in creating a high-tech corridor between Manhattan and the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility there and Kansas City and the large animal health sciences industry that exists in the metro.
• Since we are speaking of U.S. senators, just a quick note that Kansas’ other senator, Jerry Moran, also was in Lawrence on Thursday. Moran was getting a briefing on some federal research grant money at KU. We tried to catch up with Moran to ask him a few questions about his campaign, the current environment and other matters, but were unsuccessful. His press representatives said Moran didn’t have any media availability during his visit to Lawrence.
• Just like I’ve had to put that beach house dream on hold (someday I’m going to be able to afford a blanket and an umbrella), it looks like one Lawrence resident will have to put on hold her dream of being a co-host on Kelly Ripa’s popular daytime talk show Live! with Kelly.
As we have reported, Lawrence resident Courtenay DeHoff was named a finalist in a competition to be a co-host for a day on the “Live! with Kelly” talk show. This week she was named one of the 10 finalists based on a video tape she sent in and voting by the show’s audience.
On Friday, though, DeHoff was not among the five finalists announced by the show.
• One housekeeping note, Town Talk will be off next week. Unless I find a really cheap beach house, the column should resume Oct. 24.
More on the latest chicken chain; update on a Lawrence resident’s effort to win Kelly Ripa contest; local business awards and Habitat for Humanity fundraiser
As promised earlier this week, I’ve talked with the executive who is bringing the chicken chain Slim Chickens to Lawrence. Yes, I’ve got more detailed information about when and where that chain will locate in Lawrence, but more importantly we may be one step closer to figuring out why we may wake up one morning to learn Lawrence is being run by fingerless chickens.
In talking with Slim Chickens franchisee Mark Killeen — who was an executive in the Applebee’s chain for many years — there are at least two reasons Lawrence is seeing an explosion of chicken restaurants and menus of chicken fingers: There is only so much more you can do with a hamburger, and millennials love chicken.
“I think we have gone through the burger revolution,” Killeen said. “There are plenty of those restaurants. Chicken tenders became a big staple with millennials. It just seems like a natural progression.”
As for Slim Chickens’ pending entry into the Lawrence market, look for it to happen near Sixth and Wakarusa. Killeen confirmed his company has purchased the former KFC location along Wakarusa Drive. Renovation work will begin soon, and Killeen hopes to have the restaurant open by mid-January.
Killeen also confirmed he has a deal to purchase the former BarbWire Steakhouse building at 2412 Iowa St. Killeen said demolition of that building could begin in the near term, but he said it will be a bit longer before the company opens a Slim Chickens at that location. Killeen said he also has franchise opportunities in other communities. The Wakarusa Drive store will be his first, a location in Wichita likely will be his second, and the Iowa Street spot may be his third. He’s not ruling out that it all could happen relatively quickly.
“We need to get our feet underneath us with the store on Wakarusa,” he said. “But we probably could have three restaurants in Kansas in the next six months or so.”
Killeen said the explosion of chicken restaurants in Lawrence doesn’t worry him. In case you have forgotten, Buffalo Wild Wings, Chick-fil-A, Wing Stop, Popeyes, Raising Cane’s, and Zaxby’s have all either opened in Lawrence or are under construction.
Killeen said Slim Chickens uses high quality chicken that has never been frozen, and its dips and sauces set the restaurant apart. They are all made on site, and there are up to a dozen dipping sauces and about 10 wing sauces available.
“You are going to have choice,” Killeen said. “You are not going to have to stick to two or three items. You have a lot of flavors to choose from, and great variety is something people really like to have.”
Indeed, the millennial generation may well be the sauce generation. Years ago I remember wondering what was in my younger cousin’s Fruit Loops that caused her to order ranch dressing so she could dip her pizza into it. Now, everything gets dipped. (Yes, I realize I am getting very close to sounding like a grumpy old man complaining about those “dang dipping kids.”) If you read marketing or restaurant industry websites, you will see that them come up. One said chicken wings may be the “ultimate millennial food.” The variety of sauces available at most wing locations — and now chicken tender restaurants — speaks out to the generation.
“It allows them to create their own experience and therefore speaks out more than other restaurants,” Jeff Fromm at Millennial Marketing wrote in 2013. “While they want to be served, they also want the freedom to put their own signature on the dishes they’ll later devour alongside their friends or family.”
So, for what it is worth, those are the best guesses about the chicken explosion we’ve seen in Lawrence. The bigger question may be whether it is done. I’m not sure, but there are a couple of other locations to keep an eye on for fast food additions. I’ve certainly heard that restaurants are interested in the former Jayhawk Bookstore location, which sits atop Mt. Oread and is a rare piece of commercial property adjacent to the KU campus. I’ll try to get you an update on that location. I do believe the property has changed hands since the store closed earlier this year, and it is being marketed to potential tenants.
The other location is the former site of the Cadillac Ranch, 2515 W. Sixth St. I’ve heard a redevelopment into a fast-food location is a possibility, although no deals have been struck.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe Lawrence’s fried chicken phenomenon will make it on national TV. If you recall, Lawrence resident Courtenay DeHoff is a finalist to be a co-host for a day on the “Live! with Kelly” talk show.
If DeHoff is chosen, and host Kelly Ripa asks how everything is in Lawrence, surely she will bring up the chicken situation. That’s what I always lead with, although it is kind of necessary to explain why I have wing sauce on my glasses. What will DeHoff do? As they say in the TV business, stay tuned. As we reported earlier this month, DeHoff — a Tonganoxie native — was one of 20 finalists selected from across the country to serve as Ripa’s special co-host for a day.
Well, the latest on DeHoff is that she still very much is in the running to win the competition. The show has announced that DeHoff is one of the 10 remaining finalists. According to DeHoff’s Facebook page, she expects to learn on Friday whether she is one of the Top 5 finalists. If she makes that cut, the show’s producers will fly her to New York to be on an upcoming episode where the winner is announced.
We will update you on Friday.
• It is not chicken and it doesn’t involve Kelly Ripa (as far as I know) but a Lawrence restaurant has been named a big winner. Lawrence’s Leeway Franks has been named the Minority-Owned Retail Firm of the Year by the Kansas Department of Commerce.
As we reported, Leeway Franks opened last year, and it has since become a real hit in Lawrence. The business makes homemade bratwursts, hot dogs, plus other sausages and sandwiches, and also has gained a following for homemade tater tots that can come with brown gravy or cheese sauce.
Even though it may not be able to compete in the gravy category, one other Lawrence business won a big award at the Department of Commerce’s Minority Enterprise Development ceremony. Lawrence-based A.S.K. Associates was named the Women-Owned Professional Service Firm of the Year.
The company provides conference and event planning services for clients across the country, and also has a division that provides information technology services to clients.
• Speaking of efforts that involve women leading the way, there will be a fundraiser tomorrow evening celebrating such a program with Lawrence’s Habitat for Humanity.
The Happy Homes Happy Hour is the biggest fundraiser of the year for Habitat’s Women Build program. In addition to food, drinks, live music and an auction, the event also will feature the unveiling of the 2017 Women Build calendar that features 12 prominent Lawrence women modeling ‘40s style looks.
The event is set from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at The Oread. Tickets for the event are $35, which includes a calendar, or $20 without a calendar. Tickets are available at Habitat’s website.
Let’s be honest: We members of the public sometimes can be annoying.
After having covered Lawrence City Commission meetings for more than two decades, I saw that firsthand on many Tuesday evenings. So many public comments about so many different topics. Even though the length of those public comments, or their tone, or their repetitive nature could become annoying, they are a very important part of the process. They help ensure that public officials don’t govern in an echo chamber.
One public government that receives little public feedback is the Lawrence school board. The amount of public participation in a Lawrence school board meeting pales in comparison to the amount of participation at a Lawrence City Commission meeting. Think about it: There have been far more public debates about roundabouts and stop sign placements than there have been about how our children are educated. Granted, the school board does get public comment. Talk about closing a school, and the meeting room is packed. But on a week-in-week-out basis, public participation in a school board meeting is negligible compared to a City Commission meeting.
I’ve been thinking about why that is. It could be that everybody agrees the board is doing a great job, so no need to come say anything at a meeting. I do think the school district does a good job at many things — as the city does, as well — but I don’t think that is the answer. I believe it is because the public often has a hard time knowing what the school board is talking about.
Recently, the newspaper opined about the lack of notice the public received regarding the school board’s decision to allow condoms to be available through the health offices of Lawrence High and Free State High. The public received no meaningful notice that issue was going to be discussed at that board meeting. When the agenda was posted, and when the Journal-World reported on that agenda, the condom issue wasn’t on it. It was added after the fact with no notice to the public that the topic had been added. Regardless of how you feel about the condom issue, it is unfortunate the public wasn’t better notified.
Another example occurred at Monday’s school board meeting. The school board was scheduled to receive a report, which is a big part of what the school board does. This one was on the district’s efforts to have a more racially diverse staff. The agenda listed that the board would receive such a report, but, as is often the case with the school board, the report itself was not included on the agenda. That is far different from how the city operates. If the City Commission is to receive a report, the public almost always has the benefit of seeing the report at the time the agenda is released.
The Journal-World’s K-12 education reporter on Friday contacted a district official to find out what the report said because she knows her editor is a stickler for such things. I’m a big believer in providing details before a meeting so that the public can make an informed decision about whether it wants to add its opinion to the topic.
Based on that interview, we wrote an article about how the data shows a 25 percent increase in the number of people of color employed by the district in the last two years. But that is a broad number that includes everything from cooks to janitors to teachers. Parents may be more interested in how the district is doing at attracting teachers or principals of color. The article included a caveat that those numbers weren’t yet available.
By Monday’s meeting they were, and they didn’t sound quite as good as the 25 percent growth rate that was the headline of our article. The report found that of the district’s classroom, or certified, staff there were: 965 who are white, 32 who are Hispanic; 20 who are black; 11 who are American Indian; five who are Asian and two who are Pacific Islander.
To their credit, district leaders aren’t saying these numbers are good. But it would have been good for the public to see them in advance. Members of the public could have decided whether they wanted to come hear the discussion for themselves and offer opinion. Certainly matters of race, equity and diversity have been known to draw large amounts of public opinion.
Perhaps more importantly, it would have been good for school board members to see the numbers in advance. School board members receive the numbers the same time the public does. To give school board members exclusive access to the numbers would be a violation of open government laws. If school board members have the full report ahead of time, they could come to the meeting better prepared with questions.
There has got to be a way to improve upon this situation. Many governments figure out how to supply adequate information to the public before their meetings. It will just take a bit of planning and commitment to do so.
It will be well worth the time, because an engaged public can be a valuable asset for any government. There is no government in Douglas County more in need of a valuable asset than the Lawrence Public School District. Public schools are facing a funding crisis. To avert it will require the political will of legislators and the governor.
The body that forges political will is the public — also known as the people who don’t attend school board meetings.
New sushi restaurant opens near Sixth and Kasold; new Chinese restaurant with lots of spice, exotic dishes opens near Sixth and Iowa
Fortunately, I’ve never had a problem finding people to throw food at me. But if you rely on one of those Japanese steakhouses with a theatrical chef who slices, dices and then uses a spatula to throw an octopus into your mouth, you have one less option in Lawrence. Lawrence’s Kokoro Japanese Steakhouse has closed, but a new restaurant that aims to bring the taste of California sushi has opened.
Under the Sea has opened in the Westridge Shopping Center at Sixth and Kasold in the location that until a couple of weeks ago housed Kokoro. The new restaurant will focus on sushi and less so on the Japanese steakhouse style of food.
“We’ve got really good quality sushi, and that is what we want to focus on,” said owner Kevin Park.
Park said he’s been a sushi chef for the last eight years in California, and another chef at the restaurant has been a sushi chef for the last 15 years, also in California. So, I guess you could say that the restaurant is California-style sushi, although I don’t know exactly what that means. Some of you, however, may. Park said the perception on the coasts is that sushi is growing in popularity in the Midwest, and that is one of the reasons he decided to start the Lawrence venture. He said he came to Lawrence, in part, because it had a fair number of sushi establishments, which he said was a sign that the market had a taste for the Japanese cuisine.
As for the menu, Under the Sea features about 20 sushi varieties, including tuna, salmon, yellow tail, octopus, and more exotic offerings such as smelt roe, surf clam and fresh water eel. The menu also includes more than 30 classic and fresh sushi rolls, including snow crab, California and Spicy Salmon rolls. The restaurant also serves tempura (or batter-fried) dishes, among several other combination platters and other offerings.
And, if you like watching your food be made, there is still an opportunity for that. While the elaborate Japenese steakhouse routine is gone, the restaurant does have a sushi bar where you can watch as a chef prepares your dish.
• The Asian food market has been a busy one in Lawrence. I also have news of a new Chinese restaurant that has opened on Sixth Street. Szechuan House has opened in the former home of Panda Garden, 1500 W. Sixth St., which closed earlier this year after its owners retired.
It too comes to Lawrence from afar. I chatted briefly with Tina Wei, who described herself as the operator of the restaurant. She said she came to Lawrence from New York to open the restaurant. Just like Under the Sea, it wasn’t clear to me what caused Lawrence to stand out over other communities, but whatever the case, there is no shortage of Asian cuisine entrepreneurs who are coming to Lawrence. This is at least the fourth one I’ve written about in the last few months — Nagoya Japanese Cuisine in the Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana and the Thai Diner in the Louisiana Purchase shopping center near 23rd and Louisiana are a couple of others I’ve reported.
As for Szechuan House, I believe the “house” part of the name may refer to overnight living quarters for people who want to fully read the menu. In other words, the menu is huge. There are more than 200 dishes listed on the menu. That includes appetizers, soups, rice and noodle dishes, vegetarian, chicken and duck, beef and lamb, seafood, pork, pickled pepper dishes, poached dishes, something called gan guo served in a “hot pot,” black curded bean dishes and several others.
The menu lists about 20 house specialties and some of them will test your desire for the exotic, including: intestines and fish; one dish that makes marketing professionals squirm because it is simply labeled seaweed, mussel, fish ball, fatty beef and pork blood; and another dish that may make the annoying AFLAC duck squirm but may intrigue the rest of us who are tired of those commercials — spicy duck tongue.
Spicy is a key word on the menu. The menu explains that Szechuan cuisine is “characterized by its spice and pungent flavors,” and emphasizes the use of chili. A spice called prickly ash also is often used, along with garlic, ginger and fermented soybeans. So, if you don’t like spicy food, beware, although I’m sure there are some ways to avoid the heat. The duck found one, although he may not recommend it.