Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Perhaps the community is learning what I've learned on many a white-knuckled trips from the passenger's seat of my wife's Ford Taurus: Speed isn't all it's cracked up to be.
An effort by a local company to bring super-fast Internet service to Lawrence hasn't yet taken off. Kris Adair, president of Lawrence's Wicked Broadband, told me the company's plans to bring 1 gigabit Internet service to a Lawrence neighborhood are uncertain at this point.
"We aren't seeing as much interest as we had expected," Adair said. "We're not giving up on it. We still think it is an amazing project, but we have to have the community buy-in to know that it will be financially feasible."
Wicked Broadband, which is an outgrowth of the former service Lawrence Freenet, announced in April that it was launching a pilot project to bring 1 gigabit service to at least one Lawrence neighborhood this year. The 1 gigabit service is the same kind being installed as part of the Google Fiber project in Kansas City. Just like Google in Kansas City, the neighborhood would be chosen based on how many residents in a particular neighborhood pre-registered for service. Wicked leaders said they planned to announce a winner on June 15.
But Wicked officials pushed that date back to Aug. 15 when it was clear that not enough people had pre-registered in any neighborhood. The Aug. 15 deadline also came and went without an announcement. Adair told me just before the deadline that the company now hopes to make a decision in September. That decision, however, may be that there is not a neighborhood in Lawrence that is viable for the service currently.
"We're definitely not as close as we would like," Adair said. "We probably need another 40 or 50 households in most neighborhoods to say they are interested."
On its Web site, the company has a listing of pre-registration totals for each neighborhood. It appears that only one neighborhood in the city, the Centennial neighborhood near Lawrence High, has more than 25 households pre-registered. But Wicked estimates that the neighborhood still needs 48 more households or businesses to sign up before it seriously can be considered a candidate for the pilot project.
The neighborhood closest to being feasible is the area around Hillcrest Elementary, just northeast of 15th and Iowa streets. It needs another 24 households to be in the running. (Wicked uses the city's voting precincts to define neighborhood boundaries. Even though the Hillcrest neighborhood doesn't have as many people signed up as Centennial, the percentage of households that have signed up is higher.)
The 1 gigabit Internet service is attracting a lot of attention in Kansas City. The service is being used by people interested in seamless video streaming, video game aficionados and, perhaps most importantly from and economic development standpoint, Internet start-up companies looking to create new applications for the Web.
It wouldn't be fair to say that Lawrence is uninterested in super-fast Internet service. Rather, it may be that the interest is just too spread out. According to Wicked's totals, almost every neighborhood in the city has had households or businesses pre-register for the service. Most areas, though, have had 10 or fewer households. Adair said information out of Kansas City is that once a neighborhood is selected, another 20 percent of households will go ahead and sign up for the service. But Wicked needs a certain density of customers to make the service viable, and thus far no neighborhood has reached that level.
"It is a significant investment, and we really want to make sure the community is interested," Adair said of Wicked's hesitancy to pick a neighborhood.
Households and businesses that have pre-registered have been required to put down a $10 deposit. Adair said those deposits will be refunded if the neighborhood is not chosen.
Also in limbo is the company's request for a $500,000 grant from the city to help bring the high-speed Internet service to Lawrence. Adair said the company hasn't withdrawn the grant request, but that it would not take money from the city unless the project starts to show more interest from the community.
Adair, who also is a Lawrence school board member, said she is not sure what to make of the less-than-expected interest in the service.
"We have been doing a social media blitz but it is not reaching them, or maybe they just aren't as interested as we think they are," Adair said.
We'll see what September brings for the project. As for what it will bring to the passenger's seat of the Taurus, I predict it will produce more white knuckles and an occasional black out.
Fireworks, apparently, weren't the only things exploding in July. A new report out of Lawrence City Hall shows construction activity in the city was booming, too.
City officials issued building permits for a whopping $39.7 million worth of projects in July, the highest monthly total in at least three years. The numbers are creating new optimism at City Hall.
"It looks like Lawrence's growth is back," City Manager David Corliss said recently when summarizing the report. "That's good to see."
The numbers, though, aren't yet clear-cut evidence that private sector spending has fully bounced back. About $17.2 million worth of the projects were government or publicly funded projects. A $10.5 million building permit for the long-talked-about Rock Chalk Park recreation center was the largest public project of the month. But officials also issued a $6.6 million permit for the expansion of the Bioscience and Technology Incubator on Kansas University's West Campus.
For the year, about $28.7 million worth of projects, or about a third of all the new construction projects in the city, have been publicly funded. The library expansion, at about $9 million in permits thus far for 2013, has been the other major publicly funded project. (As a reminder, construction that happens on the main campus of KU is not included in these numbers. KU isn't required to get a city building permit for those projects. The numbers also don't include the millions of dollars being spent to build new roads at the Farmland site and elsewhere because such excavation work doesn't require a building permit.)
The impact of public spending in the construction industry has been significant compared to past years. In 2012, the city issued $8.9 million worth of permits for publicly funded projects. In 2011, the total was $7.9 million. It is as if public entities, with the help of the voters, in the case of the library, have banded together to create their own stimulus program.
There certainly are signs that private sector construction spending is starting to follow suit. The largest project of the month was a private one: the long-talked-about Marriott hotel and retail building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. Construction permits for the project totaled $13.8 million.
The housing market, though, may have local economy watchers as optimistic as anything. The city issued permits for 20 single family homes in July. That was the second month this year that the city had issued 20 or more single family permits. Not once in 2011 or 2012 did the city issue 20 or more permits in a month. For the year, the city has issued 107 permits for single family or duplex homes. With five more months left in 2013, those totals almost exceed the totals for all of 2012, when 126 permits were issued.
Here are some other year-to-date numbers through July:
• The total construction value for the year is at $114.9 million, up 89 percent from the same period in 2012 and up 117 percent from the same period in 2011.
• While there was no new apartment construction in July, it has been a busy year for the sector thus far. The city has issued permits for 374 units in 2013, up from 184 during the same time period in 2012 and 64 during the same time period in 2011.
Excuse me while I make my way through these piles of spent party streamers, empty firework tubes and the rows of cannons from the 21-gun salute. (I assume you held a similar impromptu celebration as your kids walked out the door for the first day of school.)
Well, now I understand there is another way to celebrate the glorious event: Home delivery of cookies and milk.
We reported last month that a Columbia Mo.-based company called Hot Box Cookies would be setting up shop in downtown Lawrence. Indeed it has. Hot Box Cookies opened last week in the space at 732 Massachusetts St., the former home of 3 Spoons Frozen Yogurt.
But what I didn't know about the business last month is that it aims to do for cookies what Dominoes did for pizza.
"We deliver cookies that are hot and milk that is cold," said Lauren Critchfield, director of marketing and social media for Hot Box. "We think we're one of the only cookie delivery services in the nation."
The company does have a $12 minimum for delivery orders, but Critchfield, being in marketing and all, notes that is only six cookies and two milks.
"That sounds like the perfect meal," she said.
It sounds like I need to find my pants with the elastic waistband.
The business aims to do good walk-in business at its downtown store as well. The store plans to be open from 11 a.m. to midnight on most days, though on Friday and Saturdays during the school year, it likely will be open until 2 a.m. to accommodate the bar crowd.
The shop features about a dozen types of cookies, with most ranging from $1 to $1.25 apiece. Also on the menu is milk, milkshakes, chocolate chip cookie cakes, and frozen cookie dough pucks that you can take home and bake later. (I was supposed to bake them?)
The shop also offers ice cream sandwiches, where you pick your cookies and they make the sandwich.
"It is like a Klondike Bar on steroids," Critchfield said. (I wonder if they are going to name it an A-Rod sandwich, although to be fair, we don't know if this cookie crumbles in the playoffs.)
The Lawrence location is the first one for Hot Box outside of Columbia. Critchfield said the store's owners were visiting Lawrence one day and fell in love with Massachusetts Street.
"We think this is just the first link in the chain," Critchfield said of the company's expansion plans. "It is a growing business. People love cookies because they are simple and they are a taste of home."
The perfect dinner of six cookies and two glasses of milk, I'm finding, may make you a little groggy.
Well, downtown Lawrence still has a Springhill Suites by Marriott for sleeping it off. Also last month, we reported that the hotel near Sixth and New Hampshire streets had sold. As we said at the time, all signs were pointing to the likelihood that the property would remain a SpringHill Suites by Marriott.
Recently, I've gotten in touch with one of the members of the new ownership group, and he has confirmed it.
"This is actually one of my favorite properties out of the whole portfolio that we purchased," said Clyde Johnson, chief investment officer for the BC Lynd group that purchased the hotel and five others from Overland Park-based Capital Management Inc.
Johnson said the Marriott flag will remain on the property, and he said most of the changes will involve bringing some of the management ideas he and his partners have used while developing more full-service, upscale properties for other hotel groups. While with another company, Johnson was involved with the management of the Hilton President in downtown Kansas City, and other Johnson County full service hotels.
"I think this hotel has a lot of potential because of its uniqueness," Johnson said of the property, which offers room views of the Kansas River. "I think the ballrooms are underutilized. We will actively market them to the community."
San Antonio-based BC Lynd operates about 1,000 hotel rooms across the country following the latest purchase.
If that new crimson and blue Jayhawk shirt bleeds just a little bit of purple on you, you'll know why.
The ownership group of Varney's — the self-proclaimed world's largest retailer of Kansas State merchandise — has purchased the Jayhawk Bookstore at 1420 Crescent Road.
But the store's new owners said diehard KU fans don't have to worry about Kansas State merchandise or sentiments infiltrating the longtime Jayhawk Bookstore at the top of the hill.
"Think of it like a marriage but with separate bank accounts," Steve Levin, general manager of Varney's and the corporate entity University Book Store Inc., said with a laugh. "That first day I got to the Lawrence store, I put on a beautiful blue shirt with a Jayhawk on it. But when I wore it back to the store in Manhattan, you would have thought I was a leper."
The Varney's brand-name certainly won't be making an appearance in Lawrence, Levin said. The new owners are keeping the Jayhawk Bookstore brand, and plan to turn around some struggles at the store — which previously was owned by Nebraska Book Co., a Lincoln-based company that has been shedding a few properties since emerging from bankruptcy.
"We're a Kansas company," Levin said from the company's Manhattan headquarters. "We understand what Kansas and Lawrence people expect. We know we can bring a good product and a fair price."
Levin said the company has been looking to expand, and is particularly optimistic about the chance to grow the company's apparel sales with KU merchandise.
"The KU brand is more of a national brand with the basketball program," said Levin, who said college bookstores will need to rely more on apparel sales in the future as textbooks continue to migrate to digital formats.
While the Jayhawk Bookstore won't be increasing its K-State offerings, Levin said the company will explore opportunities to use both The Jayhawk Bookstore and the Varney's brands in markets like Wichita and Kansas City. He said a dual-branded store where both KU and K-State fans could feel good about purchasing their team's apparel is a possibility in those markets.
As for the Lawrence store, Levin said the biggest change likely will be just a more active gameday atmosphere at the store, especially for the upcoming KU football season. Levin said he's committed to having the large sports talk radio station 810 WHB come in for at least four live pre-game shows during the season.
Varney's, which has been in the bookstore business since 1890, has been credited with helping boost the gameday atmosphere in Manhattan and Aggieville.
"We really love gamedays," Levin said.
But Levin said he knows some may question how a company with such deep K-State roots will be able to be a strong promoter for the Jayhawks. He said it won't be difficult. The company actually owned a business in downtown Lawrence, The Children's Bookshop, for about a decade in the late '90s and early 2000s.
"We love Lawrence," Levin said. "My sister went to school there. We had a business there. We think it is an all-around great community."
He thinks KU fans will do fine with the new ownership as well. After all, he said, it is not like a Missouri Tiger bookstore is buying the operation.
"I feel like KU and K-State are kind of like the cousins who don't always get along," Levin said. "Now KU and Missouri, I understand that is the Hatfields and the McCoys."
Plus, it may be worth noting that one of the other large KU apparel retailers in Lawrence, GTM Sportswear's Gameday Super Store on 23rd Street, has its roots in Manhattan-based GTM Sportswear. Perhaps more noteworthy is one of Levin's friends: KU Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger. He already is proving KU and K-State paths can cross. Zenger grew up in Lawrence but graduated from K-State and served as an associate athletics director for the Wildcats. Levin said Zenger loves books and would frequently come into Varney's during his lunch break.
"Hopefully most people really will understand what we're trying to do," Levin said. "We will always want to do what is best for the students at the University of Kansas. We want to be a very positive influence on how the world sees KU."
Lawrence, stay smart.
It's already paying dividends for us. The Lawrence area has been ranked No. 17 on Forbes' new list of "The Best Small Places for Business and Careers."
And it sure appears that Lawrence's brain power is the main factor in driving the city to the high ranking. The folks at Forbes ranked 184 metro areas with populations ranging from about 50,000 to about 260,000, and Lawrence ranked No. 3 in the category of education. That category measures items such as the percent of people with high school diplomas, college education and advanced degrees.
It has been a consistent theme for at least the two decades I've been in town that Lawrence ranks very high nationally in those types of educational rankings. (I've tried to argue cause and effect, but to no avail.) You would expect Lawrence to rank highly, as a university community, but it's worth noting that Lawrence consistently beats lots of other university communities in these sorts of rankings. Being able to tell potential businesses that we have a pool of well-educated people seems to be an enduring strength for the city.
The Forbes editors said they give a fairly heavy weight to the education factors in the ranking process, in part, because that seems to be what business site selectors are paying more attention to these days.
"Quality of life is often overemphasized compared to operating costs and conditions," Jerry Szatan, a Chicago-based site selection consultant, told Forbes. "Education measures are always good. One of the fundamental building blocks in economic development is smart people."
Forbes did rank communities in two other broad categories: Cost of business and job growth. Lawrence's ranking were more in the middle of the pack in those categories. Lawrence ranked No 51 out of 184 in the cost of doing business category, and No. 90 in the job growth category.
I know how you all love lists, so here are a few of them I've broken out of the Forbes report:
Here's a look at the top five ranked communities in Forbes' education category.
Midwestern communities fared well in the Forbes ranking. Here's a look at the rankings of best small places for business and careers of some other communities in the region:
• Manhattan: No. 3.
• Iowa City: No. 13
• Ames, Iowa: No. 15
• Lawrence: No. 17
• Columbia, Mo.: No. 20
• Topeka: No. 71
• Jefferson City, Mo.: No. 95
• Joplin, Mo.: No 108
• St. Joseph, Mo.: No. 111
There are a few cities on that list that maybe wouldn't trade places with Lawrence, however. For whatever reason, the Forbes ranking system really didn't give much weight to the job growth numbers a community has been posting. Many of the regional communities on the list ranked much better in the job growth category than Lawrence. Here's a look:
• St. Joseph, Mo.: No. 13
• Columbia, Mo.: No. 17
• Iowa City: No. 19
• Manhattan: No. 20
• Ames, Iowa: No. 35
• Joplin, Mo.: No. 49
• Topeka: No. 61
• Lawrence: No. 90
• Jefferson City, Mo.: No. 123
It's been an interesting year for Lawrence and rankings. Some of you probably remember that Lawrence earlier in the year was ranked as the second worst performing small metro area in the country by The Milken Institute. Yet now we're No. 17 on the Best Small Places for Business and Careers.
It can be tough to understand, but it just drives home the point that when you measure different things, you'll get different results. The Milken study was much more focused on backward-looking data about jobs, wages, GDP growth and other similar numbers. The Forbes report looks at some of those numbers, but also puts more emphasis on factors like education. It also contracts with a company that makes projections about future economic growth in the communities, and weights those projections. Lawrence, for example, is projected to have 2 percent job growth in the future. Lawrence leaders would take that after several years of negative job growth.
Granted, it may be more fun to land on some of Forbes' other lists like: the "400 Richest Americans," or "The World's Billionaires", or "The World's Most Powerful Women." (That one is very subjective, by the way. Angela Merkel has never made me mow the lawn.) But as Lawrence tries to take its economic development efforts to a new level, Forbes' "Best Small Places for Business and Careers" is a nice list for the city to tout.
There has been a trade in downtown Lawrence: Barry Manilow for Tom Cruise. (Sure, now my wife starts paying attention to me.)
It's nothing like that, however. Instead, we're talking about a change in formats for the downtown nightclub at 729 New Hampshire Street. Out is The Barrel House, the piano bar concept that featured renditions of Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Elton John and other kings of the ivory. In is Leroy's Tavern, which is seeking to restore the old tradition of a downtown pool hall. At some point that means men of a certain age will do their best Tom Cruise impersonation in the pool hall classic "The Color of Money." (That involves acting out a famous scene where he twirls a pool cue like a samurai sword. Or, I suppose you could just jump up and down on a couch and babble about Katie Holmes.)
I don't know if there are any couches at LeRoy's Tavern, but manager Ryan Chapman told me the bar has installed 10 new coin-operated Valley pool tables, four dart boards, a handful of arcade games and two foosball tables.
"I think the owners are doing this because there is really nothing like this to do downtown," Chapman said. "Pretty much everywhere downtown is just about the drinking. There are a few places that have one or two pool tables, but they really are a bar with pool tables. This is meant to be a pool hall/gaming hall with a bar."
But make no mistake, a bar is a big part of LeRoy's too. Chapman said the bar has 10 draft beers on tap, 16 different bottled variety of beers and fully-stocked liquor assortment.
At the moment, the establishment — which opened last week — doesn't serve food. But Chapman said there are discussions with downtown restaurants that want to make regular deliveries to the bar. That would involve a unique concept of setting up an iPad in the bar that would be linked into a nearby sandwich shop.
In case you are wondering, the location at 729 New Hampshire Street is exempt from the city requirement that new drinking establishments downtown make a majority of their revenue from food sales. The location is part of a handful of properties that received an waiver from that regulation because they were bars at the time the regulations were approved a couple of decades ago.
Chapman said he hopes to eventually operate a weeknight pool league out of the facility, and maybe run an occasional Sunday afternoon tournament. But he said the establishment will be geared for novices too, and he expects a good part of the facility's business will be from people just looking for a little bit different atmosphere than what exists at most places downtown.
That atmosphere won't include any pianos. Chapman said the ownership group — which includes a couple of the guys who own the downtown club Tonic — ripped out the piano stages and opened up the area.
It will be interesting to see if the piano bar concept tries to make a comeback elsewhere in Lawrence. I've had some people say the concept works better in a larger town or a more tourist-oriented place, but who knows? I do know that many bar owners have told me over the years that a key to making money is developing a crowd of "regulars" that you can count on in good times and bad. I'm trying to picture what a crowd of regulars who want to listen to Barry Manilow every night would look like.
Oh well. I don't have time for that. I have to fix a Tom Cruise misunderstanding with my wife.
Dear, it was just an analogy. Put away your makeup case. I'll jump on the couch, if that will help.
Surely not even Theodore Poehler could have envisioned this.
Plans are in the works for a new four-story apartment building next to the old grocery warehouse building that Theodore Poehler's heirs built during the early 1900s in the East Lawrence district surrounding Eighth and Delaware streets.
Yes, that's the same East Lawrence district that largely had been forgotten and neglected after Poehler's grocery warehouse empire faded away in the 1950s.
But as we've reported many times, the area around Eighth and Delaware is undergoing a renaissance. The old Poehler grocery warehouse building has been converted into the Poehler Lofts, and the success of that project has the same development team moving ahead with a multimillion dollar project to build another batch of affordable housing in the area.
A team led by businessman Tony Krsnich has filed plans at City Hall to build a 43-unit apartment building at the southeast corner of Ninth and Delaware streets.
We had reported in January that Krsnich was working on plans for another apartment building to mimic the successful 49-unit Poehler Lofts, which was fully leased about 12 hours after Krsnich began taking applications for the largely rent-controlled apartment units.
But the location for the project has moved. Back then, Krsnich was planning to build the project directly south of the Poehler building, which would have placed it near a new city parking lot.
Now, Krsnich has acquired property at 900 Delaware, which is about a block south and slightly east of the Poehler building. It is a vacant lot in the industrial area that houses Star Signs and Allen Press.
The project plans on using the same formula Krsnich and his team used to make the Poehler project financially feasible. It has received tax credits from the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation. The credits can be sold to people looking to reduce their tax liabilities, and the money generated from the sale goes to finance the apartment project. As a condition of the tax credits, a certain percentage of the apartment units must abide by rent-control regulations.
The big difference with this project is that Krsnich will construct a new building rather than renovating an old one. I haven't yet seen plans for the new structure, but Krsnich said it will have a more contemporary look than any of the other old buildings in the district.
"I can always tell when somebody builds something new and tries to make it look like it was built at the turn of the century," Krsnich said. "I think it is important that all development be true to the time that it was built in."
The apartment building will have units ranging in size from studios to three bedrooms, Krsnich said. He said they'll be designed with an "artist lofts" concept, which includes wide open living spaces and a minimalist approach.
Krsnich hopes to begin work by the end of this year, but conceded the amount of planning that still must be done may push the start date to early spring.
Krsnich also will be planning for another smaller development in the area. His group has filed plans for a new bistro and cafe at 605 E. Eighth Street. I don't yet have all the details from Krsnich, but it sounds like that project would involve converting an old stone duplex that is just west of the Poehler building. When I hear more information about that project, I'll pass it along.
The Cider Gallery, the combination arts gallery and events space just west of the Poehler building at 810 Pennsylvania St., recently landed a unique attraction.
The Kauffman Labs for Enterprise Creation has chosen Lawrence and the gallery as a permanent site for its 1 Million Cups series.
The series is a program for entrepreneurs and others interested in local start-up companies. At 9 a.m. each Wednesday at the Cider Gallery, one to two start-up companies will make a presentation and answer questions from audience members.
The series started last week to good crowds, I hear. Lawrence is just the 12th city in the country selected by the Kauffman group to host the program. It joins: Columbia, Mo.; Kansas City; Des Moines; Houston; St. Louis; Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, Iowa; Reno, Nev.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Denver; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Georgetown, Del.
You can find out more about the program here.
With this recent batch of rainy weather, it is hard to believe that earlier this year we were all buying sunscreen, flip flops, mosquito netting, shark repellent, harpoons and 55-gallon drums of margarita mix. (What? Isn't that your standard list of items to take to the beach?)
Regardless, we were buying summer items, and according to a new sales tax report from City Hall, we were buying them at a pretty good clip.
The city has received its July sales tax check from the state, but because of a lag time in processing, the figures actually represent sales made from about mid May to mid June.
Sales for the period were up 4.3 percent from the same period a year ago.
So far, 2013 has been an up-and-down year for sales tax, unlike 2012, which was pretty much a steady upward climb that produced one of the city's better sales tax performances in recent memory.
But as it stands now, year-to-date totals for 2013 are up about 2 percent from the same period a year ago. That rate of growth isn't nearly as fast as the city experienced in 2012, when sales grew at a 5.2 percent rate, or in 2011, when they grew at a 4.5 percent rate. But the city is on pace to have its third straight year of sales tax growth after declines in 2009 and 2010. Plus, this year's rebound is occurring at the same time that housing sales are on the rise. Historically, strong home sales and improving retail sales have created a propitious cycle for the Lawrence economy. (Propitious cycle? They're hard to come by. Just try to find one at a local bike shop.)
Here's a look at the year-to-date taxable sales totals for the city since 2008. The numbers in parentheses are the totals adjusted for inflation.
- 2013: $800.9 million
- 2012: $784.6 million ($797.9)
- 2011: $745.2 million ($773.5)
- 2010: $708.7 million ($758.9)
- 2009: $734.1 million ($799.0)
- 2008: $750.6 million ($814.0)
Those numbers show that our recent sales tax growth has been outpacing inflation, but we still have a little bit to go to get our spending activity back to the pre-recession levels. Adjusted for inflation, our spending is down about 1.7 percent from our 2008 levels.
Considering where we once were at, a 1.7 percent shortfall isn't worth worrying too much about. It is not like sharks at Clinton Lake or anything. (What's that? There's no megaladon at Clinton Lake. Curse you, Shark Week. Shark repellent is expensive.)
There are only two explanations for the large swaths of bare dirt at the former Farmland site at 23rd and O'Connell: The area is either preparing for future development, or I've been hired to do the area's landscaping. (This August has been an exception. I actually have a healthy, lush stand of green . . . weeds.)
The former Farmland Industries site, of course, is being prepared to become a new industrial park. We've reported on that several times. But prepare to see more action on the south side of the 23rd and O'Connell intersection as well.
The leader of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority has confirmed to me that it is moving forward with a new 128-unit affordable housing development on portions of the southwest corner of 23rd and O'Connell. Also, a private development group has filed plans at City Hall to rezone about 10 acres for a multifamily rental development near O'Connell Road and East 28th Street.
We've previously reported that the Housing Authority has been studying the feasibility of an affordable housing, rent-controlled project on the corner. But now the project has moved to a new level. Housing Authority Director Shannon Oury said her board has agreed to devote up to $1 million in reserve funds to help the project get started.
The authority is still partnering with a private development group led by Lawrence developer Bill Newsome. Newsome's company owns the land on the corner and has been working with the state to secure tax credits to help finance the project. Once the units are built, however, the Housing Authority will be responsible for renting the units and using proceeds from the rent to pay off the project. The project is expected to have a total price tag of about $15 million.
Oury said her organization is excited about the project, in part, because it will be a bit different than traditional affordable housing projects.
"We're really gearing this project toward the working class," Oury said.
Families and individuals with incomes that are 40 percent to 60 percent of the median in Douglas County will be eligible to rent at the project. According to a HUD Web site, the median family income in Douglas County is about $70,000, which means a family making 40 percent of that would check in around $28,000 while a family at 60 percent would be at about $42,000.
Oury said the timing seems to be right for the project because the housing market is starting to gain steam again, which often means higher prices and more difficulty for working families to find affordable housing.
"We want to make sure we keep affordable housing developing as all the other housing develops too," Oury said. "We don't want to create a situation that we've seen in other vibrant communities where they price moderate- to low-income people out of the market."
The project still has to win the necessary planning approvals from Lawrence City Hall. That process will provide more details about what the project will look like, although this post from January includes a rendering of a proposed design. Oury said she hopes to have units ready to rent by the first quarter of 2015.
Farther south on O'Connell Road, plans are in the works for an apartment complex. A group led by Lawrence builder Heath Seitz and real estate appraiser Jeff Hatfield have filed for annexation and rezoning of about 10 acres at 1338 E. 1600 Road. That is the vacant land that is just east of the roundabout at 28th and O'Connell.
I'm still waiting to get details from the development group about what type of apartment complex it's planning. The zoning request seeks RM-15 multifamily zoning. The request also notes that the city's Southeast Area Plan calls for the property to be developed with medium density residential uses.
"There is strong demand for affordable housing, especially as our community increases its efforts to market Lawrence as a retirement destination," the developers say in their application.
The RM-15 zoning will allow for a variety of development, everything from row houses to the more traditional two and three-story apartment buildings. The developers will be required to file more details about their plans for the property as the project moves through the approval process. And if I hear more from them, I'll pass it along.
But clearly, the O'Connell Road area is one to watch. Part of it is that developers are betting on the former Farmland Industries site becoming an area for new jobs. People like to live near their work. Another part is that there has been a lot of investment in recent years to get improved sewer service to the area, and developers want to put that investment to work. The infrastructure upgrade will continue in a big way. The city's new sewage treatment plant will be just a ways south of O'Connell Road. The plant will be on the south side of the Wakarusa River, basically at the point where O'Connell Road dead ends at the river.
But another factor that likely is playing into all of this is that the area along O'Connell Road is going to be a pretty handy place to live from a transportation standpoint. Remember that as part of the South Lawrence Trafficway project, 31st Street is going to be extended from Haskell Avenue to O'Connell Road. That means the neighborhoods along O'Connell are going to have a major new thoroughfare that takes residents right onto South Iowa Street and the major shopping district. (If you see my wife scouting for property in the area, now you'll know why.)
In addition, the area will have very easy access onto the South Lawrence Trafficway itself. One of the few major interchanges for the trafficway will be less than two miles to the east, about where Noria Road currently intersects with K-10 Highway. The SLT will make the neighborhood an easy place for people who need to commute either to Kansas City or Topeka.
The next thing to watch is whether the increased residential development in the area will spur more commercial development at the southeast corner of 23rd and O'Connell. A development group led by Newsome owns that property as well. It already is zoned for retail development, but at the moment, only a Tractor Supply store has located in the development.
I know Newsome's No. 1 choice of a tenant would be a grocery store for the corner, but grocers usually like to see a certain amount of rooftop development before they commit to an area. How many rooftops it will take will be the big question for the future.
In the meantime, though, I may go out and support the Tractor Supply store this weekend. It is time to get back to landscaping, and Tractor Supply sells grass seed. It also sells chemicals to kill grass. Decisions, decisions.
No word on whether you would have to get a Jayhawk tattoo to live there, or at least promise to wallpaper your house with Andrew Wiggins posters, but there is talk of a new Lawrence neighborhood that would be dubbed Rock Chalk Village.
You guessed it, the neighborhood would be near the Rock Chalk Park sports complex under construction near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. But the idea of Rock Chalk Village is much less certain than Rock Chalk Park.
The development, though, would be unique. We've reported several times that Kansas University professor Dennis Domer and others have a great interest in creating an "intergenerational neighborhood" that would help make Lawrence more of a retiree destination. Well, Rock Chalk Village is the first proposal by a Kansas City-area development group to create such a neighborhood.
Leaders with Lane4 Property Group have drawn preliminary development plans for about 60 acres just east and south of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex. For those of you having a hard time picturing it, the property is the vacant ground behind the St. Margaret's Episcopal Church. It also would be just south of the new nine-hole golf course and apartment complex that has been approved for the area. Or perhaps you are the type that remembers the names of unbuilt developments in Lawrence. (If so, you need a new hobby by the way.) This piece of ground was platted as the Oregon Trail Addition in 2007 by a group including longtime Lawrence real estate developer John McGrew and construction executive Roger Johnson. It was envisioned as a single family and multi-family neighborhood.
The idea now is for it to be a one-of-a-kind neighborhood. I got in touch with a Lane4 official who confirmed that the group is working on some plans for the property, but he didn't offer other details. What previously has been discussed for an intergenerational neighborhood is a mix of housing styles that will attract both younger families and people who are retirement age. The idea has several concepts, including that people should have the option of aging in place, and that retirees shouldn't be segmented off from younger families. Previously discussed ideas have included public gathering areas for people of all ages, a not-for-profit retirement or nursing home, and a health care clinic.
Again, I don't know what specifics Lane4 is proposing. But the group does have a pretty strong interest in the project, I'm told. Hugh Carter, vice president of external affairs for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and longtime proponent of the intergenerational neighborhood concept, confirmed that Lane4 has made a presentation to the nonprofit Campus Village board that has been tasked with finding a location for an intergenerational neighborhood.
"This is a site that definitely jumps out at you as a good site," Carter said. "But there are just so many details that still have to be worked out."
He notes that the site would be within walking distance of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex, the proposed nine-hole golf course to the north, the proposed Mercato retail development to the west, and also the extensive South Lawrence Trafficway hike and bike trail system that will grow with the completion of Rock Chalk Park.
But despite all that, the development is far from a done deal. The Lane4 proposal may be a bit like a Dayne Crist pass — the timing is just a bit off. (Come on people: Dayne Crist, former KU quarterback. It is time to get into football mode, which unfortunately has meant jokes about KU quarterbacks.)
The nonprofit Campus Village board had figured it could take another four years for all the planning, site selection and development activities to take place for an intergenerational neighborhood.
Carter said the group is sensitive to not rushing the planning process because it realizes it is likely to get one chance to get this neighborhood concept right. The board hasn't yet put out a request for proposals to hear of other possible locations and ideas that other developers may have in mind for such a neighborhood. This proposal from Lane4 was unsolicited.
So, we'll have to wait and see if the Lane4 idea proceeds or whether it is deemed premature. But proponents of an intergenerational neighborhood do find themselves in an interesting situation. There are a limited number of sites in Lawrence that would work really well for the concept. This is one of them, but it doesn't seem likely that it will sit vacant for the next several years while planning is done. Momentum for residential development around Rock Chalk Park certainly is building, so I would expect the property to get developed with a more traditional housing development if the Lane4 proposal doesn't proceed.
Speaking of momentum for housing around the Rock Chalk Park site, a new apartment and single family housing development south and east of the sports complex now has the bulk of its required City Hall approvals.
As we previously reported, Lawrence developer Tim Stultz has plans for a 40-acre development at the northwest corner of Queens Road and Overland Drive. City commissioners already have approved the zoning for the property.
I caught up with Stultz recently, and he gave me a few more details about the project. He said current plans call for up to 172 apartment units and 83 single family homes.
He said the the majority of the apartments will be one- and two-bedroom units, but there will be a few three- and four-bedroom units as well. He said he wants to put together an apartment complex that doesn't necessarily focus on students, but rather young professionals and others who are more interested in renting an apartment than owning a home.
"We've had excellent occupancy rates in our projects over the last decade," said Stultz, who previously owned Remington Square and Ironwood Court apartments but sold them to an out-of-state group earlier this year. "The student housing market is a little bit soft. What we want to do is stay in the 'move-up' apartment market. It will be a bit of an upscale apartment complex. We're not trying to target students out there."
He said more detailed design work on the project will be underway this fall. He hopes to have apartments on the market in Fall of 2015, he said.
Perhaps I'm not done exacting revenge on pigs after all. As some of you know, I've a spent a summer helping my two kids raise for the Douglas County 4-H Fair a pair of sometimes cantankerous pigs that often seemed one step ahead of me. (Insert your own joke here about pigs and newspaper reporters.)
But fear not, I won. Last weekend was the annual 4-H livestock auction, and there wasn't a pig there that was a winner, if you know what I mean. (A quick thank you, by the way, to the dozens and dozens of businesses who supported the auction. Many a 4-H member left the auction happy, thanks to the generosity of auction buyers.)
Now there is another reason for Douglas County pigs to be nervous: Lawrence is set to have an honest-to-goodness chophouse. The folks who own Six Mile Tavern at Sixth and Wakarusa are expanding the business to include Six Mile Chophouse. Longtime bar and restaurant owner Brad Ziegler, one of the partners in the project, said the restaurant will focus on serving steaks and seafood. I bet, however, a pork chop will show up on the menu every once-in-awhile.
Ziegler has negotiated a deal to take over about 2,000 square feet of space previously occupied by Famous Dave's BBQ, which is adjacent to Six Mile Tavern at 4931 W. Sixth Street. (Just to be clear, Famous Dave's BBQ is still going strong. It has just relinquished some of its space for the new venture.)
Ziegler said he hopes to stand out in the Lawrence restaurant scene by having a menu that features a variety of steaks that come from prime-rated beef.
"We're going to hopefully serve high-end steaks," Ziegler said. "And we're still going to have the bar next door."
The restaurant also plans to have three to four types of fish on its menu regularly. Meals are expected to range from about $15 to $40, he said.
Renovation is already underway. Ziegler said he hopes to have the restaurant open by the first week in September, which will be just in time for the Kansas University football season.
While we're on the topic of restaurants, work is still moving ahead full speed for a new downtown location for the Basil Leaf Cafe. A representative of the restaurant was at City Hall late last month to finalize details for the new location's liquor license. In case you have forgotten, the restaurant is moving to the former Joe's Bakery location at 616 W. Ninth St.
But the question has been, when? A representative told me current plans call for a soft opening around the third week of August, with a full-bore opening in early September. In case you are wondering, the restaurant also received approval for its liquor license.
Jimmy John's sandwich shop at 922 Massachusetts is currently closed for remodeling, according to signs in the window. No word yet on what the remodeling will involve or when the downtown restaurant will be reopening. Customers are being directed to the sandwich shop's KU location at 1200 Oread Avenue in the meantime.
One restaurant that won't be reopening is El Mezcal at Bob Billings and Wakarusa Drive. The Mexican restaurant closed its doors last week, according to a sign in the window of the establishment. The sign directed customers to its restaurant near 23rd and Iowa streets.
It is still pretty mysterious at the moment, but an effort is underway to make Lawrence the home of a remnant of the World Trade Center, whichfell as part of the 9/11 attacks.
The Lawrence-based American Fallen Warrior Memorial — more on that group and questions about it in a moment — has filed a request with City Hall to locate an approximately 10,000-pound piece of the World Trade Center in front of the Union Pacific Depot/Lawrence Visitors Center in North Lawrence.
Tonya Evans, the CEO and Founder of the American Fallen Warrior Memorial organization, declined to provide details about the project when I got in touch with her recently. Instead, she said there would be a significant announcement about it on Monday.
At one point, the group's Web site had some information about the art piece, which is being called the Star11 Anchor Artifact. But the web page was removed after I inquired to the city about the group's application to house the piece in Lawrence.
But if you know how to search the Web in certain ways, most web pages that are removed from a site aren't really removed from the eyes of Google.
The photo below is a screen shot from the removed Web page showing the Star11 artifact. What's unclear is whether that is in its finished form or simply in the process of being completed. The artist is Sandra Priest, and she's done at least one other piece of art from concrete saved from the World Trade Center site. It is a more polished and stylized version that is in Bethlehem, Pa.
According to information on the Web page, the Star11 piece comes from the World Trade Center's foundation. For those of you who understand construction, the piece is slurry wall concrete that was used to support the towers. According to the Fallen Warrior's Web page, the slurry wall "is the only piece of the trade center area that actually was left standing from the original site after 9/11."
Priest acquired the large blocks of concrete as they were being removed from the World Trade Center site to make way for the PATH subway hub in New York City.
As for its future in Lawrence, according to the information on file with the city, the Fallen Warrior Memorial group has an interest in displaying the artifact on the depot grounds for two to three years.
The more permanent plan is for the piece to be housed at a major Fallen Warrior Memorial that the group hopes to build in Kansas City, Kan. The memorial plans include a 130-foot-tall structure that would support a giant American flag. Also included are memorial walls to recognize fallen servicemen and women. The group's Facebook page has a good rendering of what it hopes the site will look like. When the site was announced last year, there was talk of a 2014 groundbreaking, but I'm not sure that is still an accurate timeline. There also was talk during last year's announcement that the memorial would be about a $30 million project. I'm also unsure about the status of any fundraising success the group has had.
Almost as interesting as the memorial, is the fact that the group trying to put all this together is based in Lawrence. The group was involved in a lawsuit with another Texas-based organization that also was planning to build some sort of fallen warrior memorial. That lawsuit has been settled. A Feb. 25, 2012 article in The Kansas City Star raises questions about the group's memorial plan and its feasibility. (Note: The link takes you to a third party site. We weren't able to find a way to link to the article on The Star's site, but did confirm that the article was written by the newspaper.)
It looks like the group would like the art piece to arrive in Lawrence in September, according to the group's Web site. According to the site, the piece will leave from Florida and make stops at several cities along the way.
The city's Cultural Arts Commission is scheduled to discuss the request at its Aug. 14 meeting.
Here's an interesting economic development project to keep an eye on: Lawrence may become a bigger player in the world of LED lighting.
Lawrence-based Sunlite Science & Technology, a manufacturer of LED lighting, has filed paperwork with City Hall to receive a 50 percent, 10-year tax abatement for a new headquarters and warehouse facility in the city.
The company is proposing to buy a vacant warehouse/office building at 4811 Quail Crest Place, which used to house Midwest Graphics. The company is estimating the project will have about a $2.3 million price tag to purchase and renovate the 21,000-square-foot facility.
Sunlite currently is a tenant in the Bioscience & Technology Business Center on KU's West Campus, and it also rents some warehouse space in town.
The project is expected to create a few new jobs in the community. Over the course of the 10-year tax abatement, Sunlite expects to add 40 new employees to its Lawrence ranks. The company employs five people in Lawrence currently.
More specifically, the company is projecting six new jobs over the first two years — three production jobs with salaries of about $26,000 a year, and three professional jobs with salaries of about $50,000 a year.
But don't expect for the city to have a full-blown LED lighting manufacturing plant, at least not in the near term. Sunlite currently manufactures its LED lights overseas, it says in its application to the city. I've chatted with a leader at the firm before, and I think most of what currently takes place in Lawrence is research and development, customer service and some distribution.
The company has been growing. It has one patent for a unique construction technique for LED lighting, and has another patent pending for a process that is expected to reduce the materials needed to produce LED lighting.
Company officials in their letter to the city do not rule out using Lawrence for a manufacturing site in the future as production levels grow.
The tax abatement request now will go through a formal city review process.
Information on the tax abatement request became available late Thursday afternoon, so I haven't yet had a chance to get additional details from company leaders. But I'll check in with them and report back.
Back in April we reported on a reorganization plan for the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department that is designed to put a bit more emphasis on small business needs and customer service.
A few of you have been asking where that stands, and it looks like you should expect to see some new faces in the department soon.
Scott McCullough, the city's director of Development Services, confirmed the city has made three new hires. One of them, though, isn't a new face.
Amy Miller, who has worked in the planning department for the last nine years, has been named as Assistant Director of Planning. Miller has been a long-range planner responsible for things such as keeping Horizon 2020 updates, crafting area plans for portions of the county expected to develop in the future, and monitoring city population projections. In her new job, she'll have a focus on monitoring and improving the department's customer service processes.
Longtime planner Sheila Stogsdill previously held the title of Assistant Director of Planning, although the position had different responsibilities. Stogsdill in April moved into a new position of planning administrator, which is responsible for overseeing all planning applications made to the office and ensuring they are processed in a timely manner.
The city also has hired an economic development professional to staff its newly created Small Business Facilitator position in the planning department. Cyndi Hermocillo-Legg will come to the position after having worked for Go Topeka, the economic development organization in the Capital City. She led that organization's small and minority business programs and its entrepreneurial programs.
With Lawrence, Hermocillo-Legg will be responsible for working closely with small businesses that file applications with the planning department. McCullough said the work will include "hot spotting issues and resolving conflicts to facilitate applications in process, and following up with small businesses to let them know they have a personal contact at City Hall."
The city also has hired a longtime Wichita city employee to fill the position of Assistant Director of Development Services, which came open with the retirement of Margene Swarts. Kurt Schroeder will come to the position after serving 20 years as the director of the Office of Central Inspections for the city of Wichita. In that job he oversaw code enforcement, inspections and building permits, which will be pretty similar to his responsibilities in the Lawrence job. Schroeder also will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the city's new rental registration program.
Miller started her new position earlier this week. Hermocillo-Legg and Schroeder are expected to start Aug. 5.
I don't know that he wears a cowboy hat, but there is a new fellow in town who plans to grab one of Lawrence's more famous bulls by the horns.
We're talking about Bullwinkles, the longtime Oread neighborhood bar near 14th and Tennessee streets. The establishment has new owners, and anybody who has driven by the building recently knows it is getting a complete renovation as well.
And the place is getting fancy . . . well, by Bullwinkles standards anyway. The bar now will have separate restrooms for both men and women. It didn't previously, and I've known a few people who have said an actual bull ride was more comfortable than those facilities.
But that and other items are changing at one of Lawrence's more longstanding college hang outs.
Joe Sorrentino and his wife, Jane, have bought the building, the business, and an adjacent apartment house. They've hired Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects to revamp the properties.
"We don't want this corner looking like a run down dump," said Joe Sorrentino.
The renovations include the bathrooms, a new concrete patio, new landscaping, and a wrought iron-style fence to enclose the outdoor areas. The work also includes lifting the roof off the building to address a host of structural issues.
"The building is just so old," Sorrentino said. "There was quite a bit we needed to do to shore it up. We're doing this so it will last for another 100 years."
Sorrentino, an Overland Park businessman, is still boning up on the history of the location, but he thinks its use as a bar dates back to around 1918 or 1919. The Douglas County Appraiser's office lists the approximate construction of the building as 1900. There are also rumors that the site occasionally served as a speakeasy during the Prohibition era, but that may just be B.S. — which, as you might guess, is a common commodity in a place that goes by the moniker The Bull.
One thing that is certain is that Sorrentino plans to keep the Bullwinkles name. In fact, he's going old school with it. He found a man in Mission who has what is believed to be the original Bullwinkles sign. Sorrentino hasn't yet acquired the sign, but he's been able to copy the original logo from it — complete with the big set of moose horns. The site of that old bull moose may bring back memories for some KU alumni. (Well, they're probably foggy memories, at best.)
Sorrentino said he hopes the bar becomes more of an alumni hangout on game days and during other events. For years it almost exclusively has been a student hangout, and Sorrentino acknowledges it also has gained a reputation as an underage drinking spot. He said that likely will be the biggest change to the establishment.
He said he is doing away with the practice of hiring KU students to serve as doormen for the establishment, which he thinks will lead to stricter checking of I.D.s.
"The guys working the doors will be in their 30s and will have no relationship with KU at all," Sorrentino said. "I just don't want that type of business."
Sorrentino said plans call for the bar to be back in operation by the week of Aug. 22.
The idea of a resort at Clinton Lake, and the unanswered questions about the interest in a casino on land recently purchased by the Delaware Indian tribe in North Lawrence certainly have given those in the Lawrence hotel market something to think about.
But despite the tantalizing nature of those subjects, downtown Lawrence is still where the real action in the local lodging industry takes place.
Work has begun at Ninth and New Hampshire streets on a 91-room Marriott TownePlace extended-stay hotel, and people continue to wait to see what The Eldridge Hotel may do with the vacant lot immediately south of its Massachusetts Street building.
Now there is a new player in the downtown lodging market. San Antonio-based BC Lynd and partners have purchased the SpringHill Suites by Marriott in the former Riverfront Mall building at Sixth and New Hampshire streets.
Chuck Mackey, president of Overland Park-based Capital Management Inc., confirmed that his group sold the SpringHill Suites and five other hotel properties to a group managed by BC Lynd in a deal that closed last week.
I've got a call into BC Lynd officials to find out what, if anything, may change at the SpringHill Suites. Mackey said his understanding is that the hotel will continue to operate as a Marriott property. According to BC Lynd's Web site, it looks like the company has a strong relationship with Marriott.
Mackey also is the hotel operator behind the new Marriott TownePlace at Ninth and New Hampshire. But the recent deal with BC Lynd does not involve that property. And Mackey said the decision to sell the SpringHill Suites wasn't related to his decision to be part of the group constructing the new Marriott property down the street.
Instead, he said the sale represented a good opportunity, and did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm about the Lawrence market.
"We're still very optimistic, primarily because of downtown Lawrence and Lawrence itself," Mackey said.
The only other area property included in the recent sale was the Marriott hotel that Capital Management owned near Deer Creek in Johnson County, Mackey said. The other properties included two in New Mexico, one in Indiana, and one in Iowa.
As for the new SpringHill Suites operators, I'll provide more information on BC Lynd when I hear back from officials there. But based on its Web site, it looks like BC Lynd is a well-established owner of multi-family properties that is expanding into the hotel business.
••• Because I mentioned both the resort and casino talk, I'll provide you a couple of tidbits on those subjects.
I still haven't heard back from Dave Mashburn, the executive who is leading LodgeWell Resorts, the lone company that submitted a proposal to build a resort complex at Clinton Lake State Park.
But the Kansas City Business Journal did catch up with the Kansas City-area developer. The article didn't provide many details on the project, such as where in the park Mashburn is proposing to locate the resort. But Mashburn did talk about how he has a concept that integrates health care and hospitality that he would deploy at Clinton Lake. He didn't elaborate on the concept other than to say in it is in "the wellness sphere" and goes beyond the traditional spa concept.
I've also heard the Kansas Secretary of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism talk about how he would like to see a man-made whitewater rafting destination at the Clinton resort. My understanding is that there are some high-tech simulator devices that can give users a fun rafting experience without a full-blown whitewater stream. But there's no word yet on whether Mashburn's proposal includes that concept, either. The state is not releasing any details.
The Kansas City Business Journal article does note that Mashburn has a partner in the project, longtime area businessman Dave Owen. According to the article, it is the same Dave Owen who is a former Kansas lieutenant governor and who ran into significant legal problems in the 1990s.
The project will be an interesting one to watch, and I will continue to try to make contact with Mashburn. But I have talked to a few locals who do have questions about whether the resort proposal will gain traction with state officials, who must approve use of the park. The fact that only one proposal came in may indicate that other established resort developers had questions about what the market could support. Or it could mean that Mashburn — who is a veteran of the hotel and resort industry but is relatively new at leading his own resort development company — is the only one with the vision to see the unique possibilities.
On the North Lawrence land purchase by the Delaware Tribe of Indians, I'm still working to learn more information from the Bureau of Indian Affairs about the process of placing that land in trust.
One notion that is worth clearing up is that just because the land has been purchased by the Indian tribe does not mean that it is automatically considered "Indian land" in the eyes of the law. It must be put into federal trust before it is considered Indian land and can enjoy some of the tax benefits and exemptions from local codes that come with Indian land status.
Putting the land in trust is also a step that must happen before it could ever be eligible to house an Indian casino. As a reminder, the tribe has not said it has plans to locate a casino on the property. It explored locating a casino in the area about a decade ago. This time around, tribal officials have said they don't want to discuss what their plans might be regarding a casino. They've instead focused on a plan that involves housing, health care and child care to serve the Native American population.
I've talked to just enough people to know that putting this piece of North Lawrence property into trust is no slam dunk. As for all the requirements that must be met for a property to be put into trust, I'm learning that is the type of complex subject that makes a fellow want to go do advanced trigonometry to unwind.
But I hope to have an article on some of the basics in coming days.
Ramen may never be the same again in Lawrence. And that's saying something because in this college town, ramen has been prepared in many different ways, and appeared in many different places. (I'm pretty sure there are still ramen noodles stuck to the ceiling of my old college apartment kitchen.)
But forget your college experiences with ramen. Plans are in the works for a new downtown ramen bar that aims to bring the Asian noodle dish to a new level in Lawrence.
Ramen Bowls hopes to open by Oct. 1 at 125 E. 10th Street, the former location of Queen Lizzy's Fish & Chips. Shantel Grace and her husband, Tim Grace, are opening up the shop after spending several years living in Hawaii, where ramen was a mainstay on restaurant menus. In fact, the couple researched it and found there were no fewer than 170 restaurants in Hawaii that featured ramen on their menus.
"We fell in love with the style of food, and realized there was something missing in our lives when we moved here," said Shantel,
As you can imagine, the couple didn't fall in love with the Styrofoam cup version of the dish that can be found on the bottom shelves of many a grocery store. Instead, these ramen dishes feature ancient recipes that sometimes take hours to prepare.
It certainly will take hours for the ingredients to arrive. The restaurant plans to have their noodles flown in overnight from a factory in Hawaii until the restaurant can make the significant investment in its own noodle-making machine. (That sounds about like my college ramen experience. Well, the part about noodles airborne, anyway.)
"It begins with the noodles for us," Shantel said. "They'll always be fresh."
The broth also will be more sophisticated than area residents normally experience. Some of the broths will take upwards of eight hours to prepare. In fact, true ramen chefs make adjustments to their water mixtures as the seasons change to ensure their dishes come out just right.
Neither of the Graces, who met at KU and returned recently after having their first child, are trained ramen chefs. Shantel is a former food writer in Hawaii, and Tim was a consultant in the shipping industry. The couple has hired a ramen consultant from Singapore to provide training.
As for dishes that will be on Ramen Bowls' menu, Shantel said there will be a variety of ramen dishes including vegetarian, meat- and seafood-based dishes. For example, she said a signature dish is likely to be Shoyu Ramen, which is a wheat noodle with soy sauce and pork-based broth, topped with char siu, which are thin slices of pork.
"It is just a really good, salty, comfort-food type of soup," Shantel said.
The restaurant also expects to have some Japanese-style dumplings and some island-inspired dishes such as shrimp fried rice and garlic shrimp.
The restaurant will be designed in a ramen bar format, meaning the center of the restaurant will feature an open kitchen where diners can sit and watch the ramen chef. The restaurant also plans to serve a variety of Japanese beers.
I'd be careful with those, though. I think that's how the noodles got on the ceiling.
The buzz you've been hearing around Lawrence perhaps has been the hum of a power saw or the steady pounding of a hammer.
With half a year in the books, one of the emerging stories of the Lawrence economy is the solid year local builders are putting together. New numbers from City Hall show builders have started more single-family and duplex homes in 2013 than at any point since the recession. And when it comes to apartment construction, they're more than doubling their previous pace.
Here's a quick look at totals through June for three key metrics.
The total value of projects under construction in Lawrence through June is up 52 percent compared to the same period a year ago and up 94 percent compared to the low point of 2009.
• 2013: $75.1 million • 2012: $49.3 million • 2011: $49.8 million • 2010: $47.6 million • 2009: $38.7 million
Single family and duplex building permits are up 33 percent from the same time period a year ago and are up nearly 128 percent from their low point in 2009:
• 2013: 87 • 2012: 65 • 2011: 59 • 2010: 75 • 2009: 38
Apartment construction, which historically has been up and down, is going through a boom period. The number of apartment units under construction in the first half of 2013 is up 103 percent from the same time period a year ago:
• 2013: 374 • 2012: 184 • 2011: 63 • 2010: 0 • 2009: 172
I've already got my boots off, so let me do this math for you. If I've counted all my fingers and toes properly, the number of apartments built in the last five years has outnumbered the number of houses/duplexes built by 793 to 324.
Since we're doing math, here's another interesting number: Lawrence's population as of July 1, 2012, was 89,512. As of July 1, 2008, it was 90,520. (Confession: I cheated and used Census Bureau figures here. My wife and kids wouldn't take their shoes off.) That's 1,008 fewer people, but during that time we've added 419 new apartment units and 237 new houses/duplexes. City officials, however, have taken exception to these Census Bureau population estimates because they think the city's population has been undercounted. The city contends that population has grown slightly during the time period.
Either way, it sure seems that apartment construction, in particular, is outpacing the growth of new residents. If that's true, it would be interesting to see the vacancy rates of some of the older, less maintained apartment complexes in the city. It doesn't get much discussion at City Hall, but it is plausible to think that one of the larger issues of the next decade is how those old apartment complexes get redeveloped in the future.
Whether you leave your shoes on or off, that is likely to involve some pretty complex ciphering.
All we need is Donald Trump and his mop of hair to make this real estate deal more interesting.
City commissioners find themselves in the middle of a unique real estate transaction that is focused on 1106 Rhode Island St. in East Lawrence. As we've previously reported, commissioners have become concerned about the dilapidated condition of the old house and barn on the property, which is just east of the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.
Members of the Barland family own the property. They've cleaned up much of the yard, including holding a much-publicized auction of old Packard automobiles that had accumulated at the site.
But the condition of the vacant house and barn is still in rough shape. The city has said the Barland family needs to either fix it, sell it to someone who will or — here's where it gets pretty unique — the city will use eminent domain to take over ownership of the property.
The city started the eminent domain process in February, but hasn't yet taken the next step in the process. In the meantime, at least one buyer — and perhaps up to three — have emerged for the property.
Lawrence architect Stan Hernly has confirmed that he's put together an investment group to buy the property and rehabilitate the house and barn. The house would become a 3-bedroom, 2-bath rental house, and an addition would allow for a 1-bedroom, 1-bath apartment. The barn would be converted into about 2,700 square feet of professional office space.
But Hernly and the Barland family haven't yet agreed on a price. City commissioners at their meeting this week pulled out their eminent domain hammer to try to move the process along. Commissioners gave the Barland family three weeks to either accept or reject Hernly's offer. If a deal for the property isn't struck in the three-week period, city commissioners all agreed that they'll take the next step in the eminent domain process.
But members of the Barland family said they also are negotiating with two other parties. Brian Barland said said those deals may not produce the same type of development as Hernly's proposal, but the buyers appear willing to best Hernly's offer for the property. (Details about the other potential developments or about Hernly's offer for the property haven't been disclosed.)
Barland said his family is working through the process of evaluating what is best for the property and what is best for their financial interests. Whether that process will be completed in three weeks remains to be seen.
Brian Barland did remind commissioners that the condition of this property didn't happen overnight. The decline of the property occurred over several decades, mainly under the watch of Barland's late father. The city has codes and a fine structure to address such neglect of property, but it is not clear how much the city ever pursued that path.
"It took 50 years to get to this point," Barland said. "It is not going to take 50 years to make a deal happen. But it does take some time to come up with a fair price for the property."
The conversation rankled City Commissioner Terry Riordan, who has restored several homes and lives in an Oread house that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
"We now have someone who wants to save this house, and now we're arguing about money," Riordan said to Barland. "Doesn't it bother you some that you caused this? Isn't there any interest in trying to save that house? What we really should be talking about is preservation."
It also remains to be seen whether Hernly's project will have everything it needs to proceed, even if it does secure the property. Hernly provided information to the city indicating that he would be seeking an approximately $40,000 "development grant" from the city to make the proposed $800,000 project pencil out.
Commissioners this week gave no indication whether they would support such a grant request.
There's also still the possibility that the Barland family may choose to take its chances with the eminent domain process. That process will require the city to pay for the property. The price would be determined by Douglas County District Court, which reviews a set of appraisals to make its determination.
If the city ends up with the property, it plans to take proposals and sell the property to a party interested in restoring the structures.
In case you are wondering why the city doesn't just take the more traditional route of declaring the structure unsafe and ordering it repaired or either demolished, the house and barn do have some interesting history behind them that would cause historic preservationists to balk at their demolition. The house dates back to 1871 and the barn was also constructed near then. Both served as the headquarters for the city's largest dray wagon business, which was run by a colorful Irish man named Rhody Delahunty.
The house and barn already are included in a broader historic district that includes the area just east of the Douglas County Courthouse. So, if the city allowed the structures to be torn down, it would be doing exactly what it says it doesn't want people to do in historic areas.
As I said, the only thing that would make this deal more interesting is Donald Trump. Maybe he can lend us one of his celebrity apprentices. Perhaps Dennis Rodman to the rescue?
It may seem odd that a duo with an M.I.T. background has opened a small bakery in the tucked away shopping center just behind the Office Depot at 25th and Iowa streets.
But Raymond Kung quickly clarifies.
"M.I.T. — Made in Taiwan," Kung says of himself and his business partner Hamlet Chang.
While it may not be the same as a degree from M.I.T., the background is providing a nice advantage for their new business, Formosa Bakery, which specializes in a Taiwanese-style of bread and pastry making.
The shop opened about a month ago at 2201 W. 25th Street. Currently it is only in the wholesale baking business selling breads and pastries to restaurants and coffee shops in the Lawrence and Kansas City area. But the business plans to open the shop up to retail sales next Thursday.
Customers will find many recognizable baked goods, such as cheesecake, tiramisu, Black Forest cake and custard-filled cupcakes and pastries. The Taiwanese baking style isn't so much about creating exotic dishes as it is about refining the ingredients in dishes, Kung said.
"People tell us that it produces a real smooth, comfortable aftertaste," said Kung, who does sales and marketing for the company while Chang serves as owner and baker. "You don't just get a sugar rush to your tongue."
The duo has been in the Lawrence area for about 10 years after growing up in Taiwan. Chang received formal baking training in Taiwan, and the pair thought the unique baking style would help it standout in the Lawrence market.
The business currently has a partnership with the Oriental Bistro & Grill at 1511 W. 23rd Street. The restaurant carries all of the bakery's items.