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More than $30 million in public projects push local construction industry to banner year in 2013; Mass. Street gets recognized by Country Living magazine
The idea of a new federal stimulus program got nowhere in 2013 in Washington, D.C., but the concept was alive and well when it came to the Lawrence construction scene.
At least that's one way to read the year-end numbers for the city's building industry. The city's construction industry had both a bounce-back year and an unusual year. The latest report out of City Hall shows $171.9 million worth of new construction projects were started in Lawrence in 2013, easily shattering any marks set over the past five years.
But the report also notes $30.5 million of the projects were government funded. In other words, nearly 18 percent of all the projects in the city were funded by the public sector. The city has only starting keeping track of public vs. private sector projects in the past few years. So I don't have a lot of data to compare these numbers to. But compared to the average of the previous two years, the amount of public sector construction has grown by about 230 percent.
And if you wanted to argue over Rock Chalk Park — now there is a phrase that is both cocked and loaded — you could debate that the public sector numbers are much higher. The largest construction project in the city was the $31 million in permits issued for what is commonly referred to as the KU portion of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex — i.e., the track, softball and soccer fields and facilities. For building permit purposes, the city is counting that as a private-sector project. That is fair because the project is being financed privately by a group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel, and that group will own the facilities. As we've reported, KU merely will lease the facilities.
But in almost every other way, the city has treated the project like a public project. For example, the city has agreed to give the privately-owned facilities a 100 percent tax abatement and a rebate on building permit fees accrued by the project. Normally, only public construction projects get such tax and fee breaks, but commissioners at the time of approval contended the Rock Chalk Park complex was essentially a de facto public project since KU would be it main user.
So, if you treat Rock Chalk Park as a public project, the amount of public sector construction in the community grows to $61.5 million, or about 35 percent of all construction that took place in the city. (Well, construction of buildings. These numbers don't include road construction or utility construction, nor do they include most of the construction KU does on its campus.)
This year may be the beginning of a trend. Don't forget that the school district still has lots of construction work to do as part of its $90-plus million bond project approved by voters, and the city will spend tens of millions of dollars in coming years to build a new sewer plant south of the Wakarusa River.
Now, please, don't mistake my pointing out these numbers as my making a judgment about them. Certainly, all the public projects went through a public process to win approval. Some went before the voters — like the expansion of the library — while others — like Rock Chalk Park — were simply approved by the City Commission. And all of them were approved for reasons that went well beyond providing the local construction industry a boost. But it does seem worth noting how much of a boost the public coffers have given the industry this year.
And to a degree, a lot of this is pretty subjective. The Marriott TownPlace Hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire was the second largest building project in the city with $13.8 million in permits issued in 2013. It is counted as a private project, but it is receiving a variety of public tax incentives. So, determining where private ends and public begins can be a bit difficult in today's environment.
Here are some other figures from the year-end report:
— The $171.9 million worth of projects is up from $100.6 million in 2012, $115.7 million in 2011, $101.8 million in 2010 and $75.3 million in 2009. I haven't had time to fully research it, but the $171.9 million may be the highest total in more than a decade, although to be fair the numbers should be adjusted for inflation.
— As we have been reporting all year, single-family home construction had its second bounce-back year in a row. The city issued 165 permits for single-family and duplex homes. That's up from 126 in 2012 and 99 in 2011. The numbers are still off the 300 homes that were being built per year during the real estate boom, but at least the 200 level is within sight, and that would be a significant milestone in the industry's recovery.
— Construction of new apartments was through the roof in 2013. The city issued permits for 374 living units. That's up from 184 units in 2012. The mark also surpassed the previous five-year high of 363 units in 2011. In case you want to keep track, the community since the end of 2008 has added 1,313 apartment units compared to 672 single family or duplex units.
— Here's a look at the 12 projects that received more than $1 million worth of building permits in 2013: 1. Rock Chalk Park (the non-city portion): $31 million 2. Marriott Town Place Hotel, 900 New Hampshire: $13.8 million 3. Apartment complexes near Sixth and Congressional: $13 million 4. City recreation center at Rock Chalk Park: $10.5 million 5. Lawrence Public Library addition: $9.9 million 6. Bioscience and Technology Incubator expansion: $6.6 million 7. Camson South Apartments, 525 Congressional Way: $5.5 million 8. Hallmark Cards manufacturing plant renovation: $4.5 million 9. Dick's Sporting Goods, 2727 Iowa: $3 million 10. Neuvant House of Lawrence, 1216 Biltmore: $2.5 million 11. Dillons Food Store renovation: 3000 W. Sixth Street: $1.2 million 12. Discount Tire, 4741 Bauer Farm: $1 million
In other news and notes from around town:
• My Shirley Temple dimples may not be in full form today, but I guess I can be cute in another way: I can take a stroll down Massachusetts Street. The downtown drag recently has gotten a dose of national publicity by being named the "Cutest Small-Town Street in Kansas" by Country Living magazine. The short article about downtown Lawrence mentioned several businesses as hot spots, including The Toy Store, Sarah's Fabrics, Sylas and Maddy's, Mass Street Sweet Shop, and Liberty Hall.