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Homeless shelter's dog biscuit business closes after loss of funding; report cuts costs of police HQ building by $5M; city loses grant money for trail project
There is bad news for the good dog. Lawrence-based Good Dog! Biscuits & Treats — the nonprofit company that employs residents of the Lawrence Community Shelter — has closed after losing key grant funding.
The maker of all-natural dog biscuits and other treats notified its retail partners earlier this month that it was closing. Dianne Huggins, an organizer of the not-for-profit, said a private funding organization recently pulled its support, leaving Good Dog in a financial bind.
"There is not a realistic path at this time to bring the business back," Huggins said.
Huggins said sales of the dog biscuit products were strong at places such as The Merc, Checkers, Hy-Vee and a host of smaller specialty retailers. But the business never had the money to make investments in more baking equipment, which would have allowed it to expand its geographic reach. The relatively small volume of sales made it difficult for the business to consistently meet its payroll, which is where the grant money came into play.
Huggins said the business employed about four residents of the homeless shelter at any given time, with full-time employees making $9 an hour and part-time about $8 an hour.
The business, which for a while was based in East Lawrence but then moved into space at the new homeless shelter facility, was open for six years. I remember when they opened because the organizers somehow convinced me to try one of the biscuits when I was out interviewing them. (If I thought it would have helped, I would have given them an endorsement. It really was the best dog biscuit I've ever tried.)
During the business' six-year run, Huggins said 16 employees of the business have exited homelessness.
"We truly were successful in that regard," Huggins said. "We are real proud of that."
Huggins said leaders of the Lawrence Community Shelter are discussing possibilities for other programs that could provide jobs to shelter guests.
"I'm certain there are people thinking about that, but we'll just have to wait and see what develops," she said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• City commissioners are looking for ways to cut costs, too. In particular, commissioners are trying to figure out how to lower the estimated $30 million price tag for a new police headquarters building.
Well, architects for the project have delivered a report that presents a plan to knock the price down to an estimated $25.7 million. The cost reductions were made simply by reducing the size of the building and its underground parking garage. The building shrinks to about 62,000 square feet, down from about 73,000 square feet previously proposed. For comparison purposes, the police department has about 37,000 square feet of space today, although it is spread out in several locations.
The proposed parking garage, which would be for police department vehicles, not employee vehicles, would shrink to about 15,000 square feet, down from about 20,000 square feet. Plans call for the garage to have a firing range.
An outbuilding that would be used for evidence storage would shrink to about 4,000 square feet, down from about 6,400 square feet.
Now that architects have uttered these figures, I suspect a majority of city commissioners will latch onto them and the building will shrink in size and cost. The question is whether commissioners will push for further cuts.
The more interesting debate may be where city commissioners decide to locate this facility. My sense is that commissioners are split on the issue. There are some who think highly of a site across the street from the Hallmarks Cards production plant. That would put the police headquarters building right next to the West Lawrence interchange for the Kansas Turnpike. Others, I believe, are concerned about the expense that comes with that site. The site, owned by Hallmark, has 47 acres and Hallmark is not interested in selling it off in parcels. Hallmark is seeking about $3.2 million for the site.
The architect's study indicates the acquisition costs for the Hallmark site are likely the highest of the five studied. In addition, architects estimate it will cost $750,000 to $830,000 to prepare the site for development, which makes the site development costs the highest of the five sites.
The site also has an added twist. The city only needs about 15 acres for the police headquarters building, but would be buying about 47 acres. I know some commissioners already are running numbers on what it could sell the excess property for to help recoup costs. That certainly could work, but it also essentially would put the city in the private development business. Which developer would the city sell to, and for what type of project? Remember that voters likely are going to be asked to approve the funding for the police headquarters building in November. Voters likely are going to want to know the details of what will happen to the extra land, and in this town, that certainly could be a complicating factor.
But I know that some commissioners really like the idea of having the police headquarters greeting visitors coming off the turnpike. We'll see whether this latest report does anything to dampen the enthusiasm.
As a reminder, the other sites under consideration are: 14 acres in the city-owned VenturePark business park near 23rd and O'Connell; 26 acres in the Fairfield Farms development near 23rd and O'Connell; 41 acres southwest of 31st and Louisiana; and 29 acres of city-owned land at Wakarusa and Overland drives.
I intend to write a more complete article on the new report, so check back later today for more details.
• Finally, one more piece of bad funding news on this Friday. City officials learned that a much anticipated trail project through East Lawrence was not selected to receive funding through a state grant program. The trail project would have connected Hobbs Park near 11th and Delaware Streets with Constant Park near Sixth and Kentucky streets. The city applied for a transportation grant through the Kansas Department of Transportation. KDOT, however, only had enough money in the program to fund 20 of the 43 projects submitted. It is uncertain when the next grant from the state will become available.
Commissioner Bob Schumm has made this trail a priority, and it has received a lot of public support from several groups that promote alternative transportation and the benefits of exercise. It will be interesting to see if a last-ditch effort is made this week to add the full cost of the project to the city's 2015 budget. Based on the last estimates I've seen, the project is expected to be about $1 million. Commissioners are scheduled to set the budget at their Tuesday evening meeting.