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Study says Lawrence among 'most improved' cities since end of recession; another arts-based development for East Lawrence; Turnhalle open house


The bright, fancy labels to attach to our foreheads should be arriving any day now. What's that? You haven't heard that Lawrence has made a national list of "most improved cities"? Indeed we have, and just like the bag of bacon and cheddar potato skins in the vending machine, that means we'll need a label to proclaim our improvement. (More bacon, more cheddar, in case you were wondering.)

The financial website Nerd Wallet has ranked Lawrence No. 21 on its list of the Top 40 Most Improved Cities Since the Recession. The study, which looked at more than 500 cities, used three sets of statistics from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey program to rank cities: the amount of change in unemployment rates; the change in median household incomes; and the change in the median home values. It looked at the time period of 2009 to 2012, with 2009 being the end of the recession and 2012 being the most recent data available from the census.

Lawrence's median home values were almost unchanged from that time period, but it scored well in the unemployment and median household income categories. The study didn't provide all the raw numbers it used, but it is showing that unemployment dropped 18 percent in that time period. No, we didn't have Great Depression levels of unemployment here. Instead, in 2009 the Census Bureau estimated unemployment at about 5 percent. The 2012 data estimated it at about 4.1 percent. The difference between those two percentages is about 18 percent.

The median household income number had an even bigger change. It has increased by almost 21 percent. Again, the study didn't provide the specific numbers, but looking through the census data, I found the 2009 household income estimate was $39,496 and it has grown to $47,755 in the 2012 data. I should note that the margin of error for that 2012 number is plus or minus 15 percent, which kinds of makes statisticians cringe. But we'll let the statisticians fight about that on their own. We can revel in making a top 40 list.

All right, we have reveled long enough. Because there is one other number not included in this ranking that I should point out in regard to how the community has recovered since the recession: job numbers.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts out a quarterly report on the numbers of jobs that are located in each county. Those numbers don't paint as pretty of a picture. In fact, they show that the number of jobs in Douglas County actually was at a lower level in 2013 than in 2009 at the end of the recession. There were 46,876 jobs in Douglas County in 2009 compared to 46,402 in 2013.

In fact, there were fewer jobs in 2013 than there were in 2003: 46,402 versus 46,940. That's despite some significant gains in population during that time.

Now, to be a bit more positive, the job numbers in Douglas County have once again begun to head in the right direction. We hit our low point in 2011 with 45,641 jobs based in the county. We've grown those numbers a bit in both in 2012 and 2013.

But I point all this out because the job numbers would suggest our recovery from the recession has been pretty lackluster. I looked at how other larger counties in Kansas have fared in that time period. Wyandotte County was the only other one that had a net loss of jobs.

— Johnson County: up 5.9 percent

— Riley County: up 1 percent

— Wyandotte County: down 1.8 percent

— Shawnee: up 2.3 percent

— Sedgwick: up 5.3 percent

So, you'll have to make of those numbers what you will. In the meantime, I'm going to wear this label my wife has given me.

Wait a minute, this doesn't say improved.

In other news and notes from around town:

• One area of Lawrence that seems to have a "new and improved" story going for it is East Lawrence. As we predicted, the city did receive its $500,000 grant to make art-based improvements along the Ninth Street corridor east of Massachusetts Street.

The city still needs to come up with about $3 million to fund the actual street improvements along Ninth Street. The city hasn't yet specified how it plans to do that in its 2015 budget, but I think it is likely we'll see a recommendation emerge in the next few days.

Then we'll see whether the improvements indeed spark a boost in arts and culture-based businesses and events in East Lawrence and downtown. Local developer Tony Krsnich is making another bet that arts-based businesses are going to want to locate in the area.

Krsnich, who has developed the Poehler building and the Cider Gallery near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets, has filed another redevelopment proposal — although this one is on a much smaller scale.

Plans at City Hall show that he wants to do an approximately $200,000 renovation of a a 23,000 square foot warehouse building near Ninth and Delaware streets. The newer building was designed to house traditional warehousing or small scale industrial users. But Krsnich says it now makes more sense to subdivide the building into four smaller spaces that could be used for artist studios or small retail shops that want to take advantage of the activity in the Warehouse Arts District.

• Area residents will get a chance to see one East Lawrence project up close on Sunday. The Lawrence Preservation Alliance will host an open house of the Turnhalle building, 900 Rhode Island St., from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman and Mayor Mike Amyx will speak at 2 p.m.

If you remember, LPA purchased the 1869 building in 2012. It has a long history in the city, serving as the meeting place for the German-American society of the Turnverein. But in recent years it deteriorated, and LPA was concerned about its stability.

Grant money and private fundraising have allowed roof and foundation repairs to occur. LPA leaders are continuing to look for a buyer of the building to complete the renovations and give it a new use.

"We're still talking with legitimate, potential buyers," Dennis Brown, president of the LPA, told me. "Not a lot of them, but but there are some out there who are working with us."

Brown said the LPA believes the building could serve as a nice mixed-use project for the neighborhood, with some commercial and office components. LPA, however, is discouraging people from buying the building and using it solely as a residence. The building's history is one of a public building, and LPA would like to preserve that element of the property if possible.


Clark Coan 3 years, 12 months ago

Well, the cost of living is much higher here than Ames, Iowa and regular tax increases don't help. Plus, workers get $12,000 more per year in wages in Ames which is also a college town. What's going on?

Melinda Henderson 3 years, 12 months ago

Just because someone lives in Lawrence doesn't mean they work in Lawrence. Hence, the increase in median household income isn't a very good indicator of anything other than a lot of people commute to better paying jobs elsewhere. So they can afford to live here.

Larry Sturm 3 years, 12 months ago

Wait Sam don't like the arts he will try to take that money and give it to the Koch brothers.

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