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Downtown ice rink possible; city's retail sales fall for third time in four months

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Here in another couple of months, my household will be in full Winter Olympics mode. That will mean several things: Jokes about communists (the games are in Russia this year); spontaneous performances of the Olympic theme song, complete with cymbals, by my wife; and whether I like it or not, figure skating on the TV.

Perhaps in the future, though, we can get our ice skating fix locally. I've gotten wind of an ice skating idea that is percolating at Lawrence City Hall. Folks in the parks and recreation department are exploring the feasibility of a seasonal, outdoor ice rink in downtown Lawrence.

Mark Hecker, assistant director for parks and recreation, told me several areas are getting a look. They include an area near the Outdoor Aquatics Center and part of South Park. But the most intriguing location is the plaza area that will exist between the city's new parking garage and the expanded Lawrence Public Library once it's completed next year.

The idea has some momentum at City Hall, in part because City Manager David Corliss is intrigued by it. He said he's interested in finding a way to bring more people to downtown Lawrence in winter. The idea of placing a temporary rink in the plaza area has some synergies, he said, because there would be adequate parking in the adjacent garage, restrooms are available in the new garage, and nonskaters could easily find something to do in the library or make the quick walk over to Massachusetts Street.

Whether the plaza area will be big enough to accommodate a rink isn't known. The financial feasibility of all this is also a question. To be clear, city officials aren't thinking of simply flooding an area and waiting for it to freeze. They do that occasionally in a low lying area of Watson Park, but it usually is only worth the time if there is going to be three to four weeks of freezing weather.

Instead, city officials are exploring renting a portable ice rink that comes with the appropriate ice making equipment. The financial feasibility of the idea likely will involve finding a corporate sponsor, and also charging a fee for skaters. Obviously, Crown Center in Kansas City has done well for years with its rink. Even for people who don't skate, it seems to add to the area's reputation as a holiday shopping destination.

That's certainly behind some of the thinking at Lawrence City Hall.

"We like the idea of a Winter Wonderland type of concept in the downtown core," Hecker said.

It's far from a done deal, but city officials seem to be serious about exploring the concept.

If it comes to be, I know somebody who can provide the theme music.

In other news and notes from around town:

• There is something else that is slipping and sliding just a bit in Lawrence: Retail sales numbers. The latest city sales tax report shows that taxable sales in the city fell by about 7.5 percent during the most recent reporting period. Totals for the entire year are still decent, but this does mark the third month out of the last four that the city has registered a decline in taxable sales in the city.

The most recent report details the taxes the city received from the state's Department of Revenue in November, but due to a lag in reporting and processing, it really measures sales that occurred from mid-September to mid-October. So, it appears really early-bird Christmas shoppers weren't out in full force, and, let's face it, Jayhawk football fans weren't roaming the city in the numbers they used to either. I never put too much stock in one month's worth of numbers, but the 7.5 percent decline is fairly significant.

For the year, sales tax collections are up about 1.6 percent. It's worth remembering that 2012 was a strong year for retail sales locally, so the fact we're above last years totals is encouraging. But, it also is worth noting that Lawrence in 2013 is performing worse than the state as a whole when it comes to retail sales. The statewide growth rate for taxable sales is 2.6 percent so far in 2013.

Lawrence isn't alone. It has been a mixed bag for several of the larger retail communities in the state. Here's a look at some of the winners and losers:

— Dodge City: up 1.6 percent

— Emporia: up 2.5 percent

— Garden City: up 5.2 percent

— Hays: down 12.3 percent

— Hutchinson: up 3.2 percent

— Junction City: down 1.0 percent

— Kansas City: up 5.1 percent

— Leavenworth: up 4.1 percent

— Leawood: up 0.9 percent

— Lenexa: up 5.2 percent

— Manhattan: down 1.2 percent

— Olathe: up 3.4 percent

— Ottawa: up 4.5 percent

— Overland Park: up 1.8 percent

— Salina: up 1.4 percent

— Shawnee: up 3.4 percent

— Topeka: up 0.4 percent

— Sedgwick County: up 2.3 percent.

• It was a late night at the Lawrence City Commission meeting on Tuesday, so news of the commission's discussion on a pay raise for commissioners got a little bit short-changed in our coverage. As we reported, staff members were directed to create an ordinance that would bump the annual commission salary to $20,000, up from $9,000 today. The mayor would get a bump to $25,000, up from $10,000 today.

The proposal, however, is a bit different than some had envisioned. Previously, there was a thought that none of the pay increases would take effect until after a new commissioner had been elected or an existing commissioner had been re-elected. In other words, no one would be guaranteeing themselves a pay increase.

But Commissioners Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm lobbied for a slightly different idea. The new proposal is that the pay increase would go into effect for all five commissioners after the April 2015 election. Three of the five seats — those held by Schumm, Riordan, and Mike Dever — are up for election in 2015. Mike Amyx and Jeremy Farmer's seats aren't up until 2017. Riordan said it wouldn't be fair for some commissioners to be making $20,000 while others are making only $9,000.

Ultimately, Dever sided with Riordan and Schumm to move the proposal forward. Amyx and Farmer abstained from the vote because they did not want to be in a position of voting for a proposal that would guarantee themselves a pay increase.

None of this is official yet. Commissioners still will have to vote on the actual ordinance that increases the pay. That vote likely will happen sometime in January. As for the concept of city commissioners getting paid more, it was widely accepted at Tuesday's meeting. Two members of the public spoke in favor of it. None spoke against it.

Although there was a city survey that showed Lawrence's proposed salaries would make Lawrence among the higher paying in the area, Riordan said he thought the survey results mainly showed that commissioners in other communities are "grossly underpaid."

Probably the most interesting item of the discussion is that one member of the public commented that if City Hall wants to do something to encourage more people to run, it should place some limits on campaign spending for City Commission races.

Commissioners didn't take any action on that idea, but Riordan said he was intrigued by it.

"That may be worth looking at, at some point," Reardon said. "That probably would affect it more than anything else."

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  • Comments

    Leslie Swearingen 11 months, 2 weeks ago

    This is an excellent idea. It sounds like it would be a fun place for people of all ages to gather. I hope they include some vendors for hot chocolate and the like. Are there going to be colored lights around the rink and music? I hope so.

    Eddie Muñoz 11 months, 2 weeks ago

    Bumps of 11k and 15k? That seems excessive, though I will admit I don't know the history or reasoning behind it.

    John Graham 11 months, 2 weeks ago

    The commissioners are talking about raises that would make the commissioners the highest paid in the state. KCK and Overland Park pay at most $14k for a commissioner and Topeka pays $10K. Why do Lawrence commissioners deserve to be paid at least 43% more than commissioners from larger communities? Lawrence already pays more than Olathe. It is nice of Dr Riordan to feel that every other community is "grossly underpaying". It is rather self serving of him to make such a claim. I find it hard to believe that every other community in the region is "grossly underpaying" their commissioners. If Dr Riordan and the other commissioners feel they are "grossly underpaid" they are free to resign their seat or not run for reelection which many commissioners have done time and time again. There are always more candidates than open commission seats so finding replacements should not be hard.

    The idea that more pay will lead to poor and middle class commissioners is without merit. Manhattan currently has two teachers as city commissioners and Olathe has a nurse. Those jobs would typically be considered middle class. Also both Manhattan and Olathe currently pay less than Lawrence for their commissioners.

    Instead of the commissioners voting for their own pay raise, how about having the public vote? Most people would probably vote themselves a doubling of their salary if they have a chance. This is nothing more than the foxes raiding the chicken coop.

    Brett McCabe 11 months, 2 weeks ago

    The downtown Ice Rink would, of course, be a massive success for Lawrence and a great first step for getting an enclosed rink down the road. From a location standpoint, visibility is key in having a large and positive impact on the city. Size of the rink is important, too small and it will be too congested.

    This is exciting news for the community and, corporate sponsor or not, should be included in the city budget so that the rink can open in 2014.

    Wayne Kerr 11 months, 2 weeks ago

    An ice rink is a great idea and would be a wonderful addition to our downtown. This could be something kids and adults alike will enjoy and look forward to every winter. I agree with you Brett, visibility and size are important, for that reason South Park sounds like the best location to me.

    Richard Heckler 11 months, 2 weeks ago

    I don't believe Lawrence will support this ice skating rink.

    Chasing retail stores from downtown or simply putting them out of business is not too smart. City Commissions must accept responsibility for this problem simple as that. Allowing developers to control city planning is a tax dollar money hole.

    Beer and food cannot make up for that. Although Free State Brewery and the Burger Stand are certainly doing their best. Hell even these two could use some more retail shoppers in downtown.

    Flooding the retail markets thinking that Topeka and KC metro shoppers are going to drive to Lawrence for shopping is not a solid plan. Thinking that Lawrence alone can support over loaded markets is not a solid plan. Helter skelter planning is reckless. Perpetually loading up the outlying areas with more retail will be a taxpayers nightmare.

    The monster failure of the New Urbanism Project has been the writing on the wall for a few years. Living in denial can't change that. Tanger Mall and the Riverfront Plaza.

    Crown Center shopping is driven by the shopping choices,perhaps science city,maybe the KC Ballet all of which are neighbors.

    Check out the KIng of Prussia Lego store and bring that to downtown Lawrence. These stores are LEGO speciality stores. Talk about worthwhile stuff!

    Too bad there was no lure for an Old Navy in downtown.

    I always thought that a fine furniture store at 11th and Mass might be a good idea...... where the next high rise living is going to be. The parking lot was perfect. Instead many go to Nebraska Furniture Mart. We always enjoyed shopping with Johnson Bros....on Mass.

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