LJWorld.com weblogs Town Talk
Knology set to drop WGN, RFD TV and other networks from cable lineup; Baker files plans for $1.2 million wetland education center; study finds Lawrence has among the lowest development fees in the region
News and notes from around town:
• Oh my. Fans of Cubs baseball and country music are in for a shock. Lawrence’s Knology cable television system is set to drop several channels, including the Cubs’ WGN network and RFD TV, a network that shows country music and programming aimed at a rural audience.
Knology’s top Lawrence official confirmed to me that the company is in the process of dropping WGN from its cable lineup effective Dec. 31.
But there are other changes coming before then. Beginning tomorrow, Knology will drop RFD TV, Family Net and the TV Guide Channel, which shouldn’t be confused with the guide button that is on your cable remote. That on-screen guide will continue to be in place.
Debra Schmidt, system manager for Knology Kansas, told me the decisions have been difficult but are part of a much bigger picture of what is going on in the cable industry.
The big players in the cable industry — think ESPN and Food Network and such — are gaining more and more leverage over cable companies all the time. The big programming companies bundle their popular networks together with their less popular networks and require cable providers to take the whole bunch or none at all. As a result, fees that the cable companies must pay to the big-time programmers have been increasing.
Schmidt said in order to control costs, Knology has had to make some tough decisions about dropping some smaller cable networks that don’t have such leverage.
The folks at RFD TV are not taking the decision sitting down. An executive with RFD TV recently flew into Lawrence to discuss the issue with Lawrence city commissioners, and the mayor did send a letter to Knology asking it to reconsider its decision to drop RFD TV. But Schmidt said the change will continue as planned.
Two other channels also will be dropped from the system beginning tomorrow: Blue Highways, a network that features older music and tends to lean towards the Americana side of things; and Family Net TV.
It looks like some of the shows on the networks are available for viewing on the Web sites of the networks.
• Here’s another sign that the South Lawrence Trafficway actually is going to get built, and no this one doesn’t involve icicles in Hades. (Don’t worry, though, that still applies to the Cubs and the World Series.)
Baker University has filed plans at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department to build a $1.2 million wetland education center near the wetlands that the university is creating as part of the mitigation efforts for the South Lawrence Trafficway project.
The plans call for a 10,000-square-foot wetland education center that will have a large display area, two classrooms, a kitchen, a gift shop and office space. The project also calls for a 3,000-square-foot maintenance building for the property. The project is set to be built near the main entrance of the wetlands area, which is at 1365 North 1250 Road.
Roger Boyd, Baker’s director of the wetlands, told me he expects the new building can accommodate up to 170 people at a time for presentations and other related activities. Baker is betting that the education center will draw interest from the general community, but particularly will be a popular place for school field trips.
“The display area will have a lot of exhibits about what to look for when you are out here, and about why wetlands are important,” Boyd said.
Baker already has moved a new house to the site, which will provide a place for the resident manager of the wetlands to live. I believe the house came from just east of Haskell Avenue and was one of the handful of houses that are in the path of the trafficway.
The wetland center and the restoration or creation of about 300 acres of new wetlands are being funded by the Kansas Department of Transportation to compensate for the loss of about 60 acres of wetlands that will be lost to the SLT project. As part of the mitigation plan, Baker will receive about $9 million as an endowment to manage the wetland property.
Baker, Boyd said, hasn’t yet received that money, but is expected to in fall 2013. Boyd said the university wants to begin the planning and approval process now so construction on the center could begin in March 2014 with an opening in fall 2014.
“I’m still pinching myself,” said Boyd, who has been officially overseeing the care of the wetlands since 1982 and has been wrapped up in all the legal wrangling of the SLT project. “I’m still having a hard time believing that it actually is going to happen.”
• While we’re talking about projects that have taken a long time to develop in Lawrence, there is a new study out that refutes some perceptions about Lawrence’s business-unfriendly environment.
A group of business students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Society for Industrial Office Realtors have released a new report that looks at the amount of fees cities in the area charge for commercial and industrial development projects.
Lawrence ended up being one of the clear-cut bargains in the area. Lawrence had the third lowest fee total in the office building category and the second lowest total in the industrial building category.
In both cases, the fees charged in Lawrence were more than $200,000 less than what were charged in the most expensive communities. Interestingly, the highest fees charged were in two communities often touted as being more business-friendly than Lawrence: Overland Park and Lenexa.
The authors of the study submitted actual architectural site plans to the planning department of each city, and asked the department to provide a fake invoice for fees that would be due on the project. The first project was for a $9.6 million, 60,000-square-foot office building on a 10-acre site. Here’s a look at the total development fees for each community:
— Blue Springs, Mo.: $98,092 l — Columbia, Mo.: $46,801 — Gardner: $145,428 — Grandview, Mo.: $92,479 — Independence, Mo.: $79,179 — Kansas City, Mo.: $130,751 — Lawrence: $48,057 — Leawood: $98,181 — Lee’s Summit, Mo.: $130,991 — Lenexa: $261,318 — Liberty, Mo.: $117,091 — North Kansas City, Mo.: $122,411 — Olathe: $188,972 — Overland Park: $248,773 — Riverside, Mo.: $37,760
The second project was for a $10 million, 100,000-square-foot warehouse industrial building on about 15 acres of property. Here’s a look at those fees:
— Blue Springs, Mo.: $100,919 — Columbia, Mo.: $71,894 — Gardner: $199,423 — Grandview: $86,091 — Independence, Mo.: $185,869 — Kansas City, Mo.: $134,650 — Lawrence: $48,768 — Leawood: $110,962 — Lee’s Summit, Mo.: $115,729 — Lenexa: $334,873 — Liberty, Mo.: $160,887 — North Kansas City, Mo.: $169,282 — Olathe: $267,881 — Overland Park: $337,482 — Riverside, Mo.: $44,360
This group did the same study in 2010, and the results were much the same: Lawrence was near the bottom in terms of fees charged.
The findings could be spun a couple of different ways in Lawrence. One is that leaders could tout how aggressive Lawrence is in trying to attract business to the community. But another viewpoint might be whether Lawrence is charging too little for development fees, causing general taxpayers to subsidize a service that is supposed to be supported by fees. The city has done some studying on that question and doesn't believe it is the case. Many of the fees — especially in Johnson County — are impact fees for roads, parks and even art that Lawrence simply doesn't charge.
The entire study raises an interesting question: How much do development fees play into the decision making of developers? I haven’t done all the math, but I suspect many of these communities with higher fees have had higher job growth rates than Lawrence has. I know many of them have a greater percentage of business and industry as a part of their tax base than Lawrence does.
So, how does this play into the mantra that Lawrence is unfriendly to business? Well, if you hear people saying that Lawrence charges outrageous fees — and I hear that sometimes — you might want to take those comments with a grain of salt.
But it also is worth remembering there are a couple of different types of development processes in Lawrence. The one studied here is for a developer that is proposing to build on a shovel-ready site. There are a few shovel-ready commercial and industrial sites in Lawrence, but it would be interesting to see how our inventory stacks up against other communities. My guess is we have less.
Often, development of any size in Lawrence requires a developer to rezone a piece of property to fit his or her needs. When people think of some of the more high profile business squabbles or rejections in Lawrence — such as Wal-mart of several years ago, Lowe’s more recently or plans for an industrial park near the Lawrence Municipal Airport — those often had zoning issues attached to them.
So, what I’m saying here, is I don’t think this study is going to end the debate about whether Lawrence is adequately business-friendly enough. Imagine that — a debate in Lawrence continuing on.
• Town Talk is taking a day off tomorrow, and I plan on debating no one. (Although that will require me hiding from my family all day in my basement, but I’m willing to give it a try.) Town Talk will return on Monday.