KC’s Port Fonda is looking for Lawrence location; home building numbers down; report shows size of local apartment boom

I haven’t dusted off my special sombrero yet — just my ordinary one — but I have gotten word that one of Kansas City’s hipper Mexican restaurants is seriously considering a Lawrence expansion.

I know some of you have heard rumors that Kansas City’s Port Fonda is going to open a location in Lawrence soon. Well, that information is a bit like when you get salsa all over your chin: You’re a bit off, but you are in the right neighborhood.

Jamie Davila, a co-owner of Port Fonda, told me the company hasn’t yet signed a deal for a Lawrence location, but has looked at about four spots so far.

“We have been flirting in Lawrence, but there is nothing to go on as of yet,” said Davila. “But we are definitely flirting in a serious way about it.”

Davila said he expects the company to make a decision on its Lawrence future in the next month.

For those of you not familiar with Port Fonda, it has become a favorite for some of the Westport crowd. Patrick Ryan, the other co-owner of the business, started in a food truck in Kansas City and then transitioned to a full-scale restaurant about two years ago.

“I would describe it like Mexican street food with polish,” Davila said.

A quick look at Port Fonda’s menu gives you an idea that involves being creative with ingredients. For example, the restaurant’s beef tacos come with all the normal ingredients such as cilantro, onion and lime. But it also includes fried potatoes, green olives and raisins. Other dishes feature ingredients such as cabbage, radishes, fried avocado, and a sandwich that has a combination that allows cardiologists to dream of bigger beach homes: pork belly and bacon on a single sandwich.

At the moment, though, I would continue to file all of this under the category of a development to keep an eye on. Lots of restaurants take a look at Lawrence for an expansion, but do not ever make the move. But I wanted to pass this one along because I had heard a decent amount of discussion on the street about it.

Plus, I really do love wearing that sombrero.

In other news and notes from around town:

• The latest numbers from City Hall show that local homebuilders have slowed down just a bit in 2014. There have been 42 building permits issued for single-family and duplex projects through April. That’s down from 59 during the same time period a year ago. Single-family home numbers have been on the rise for the past two years in Lawrence, but builders will have some work to do if they want to stretch that to a three-year streak. But it is worth noting that 2014 numbers, so far, are still tracking ahead of 2012 and 2011 numbers.

The total value of construction projects underway in Lawrence is way down compared to a year ago. The city thus far hasn’t seen the large projects like the downtown hotel or the Rock Chalk Park facilities that pushed totals up to near highs in 2013. Through April, the city has issued permits for $25.7 million worth of projects. That’s down from the $54.8 million issued at the same time a year ago. This year’s total of $25.7 million ranks fifth out of the last six years.

• One noteworthy building permit trend is that the city hasn’t issued any permits for new apartment construction this year. The city put out a new report that looks more deeply into building permit trends, and it shows just how rare that is. The report produced a statistic that shows just how prevalent apartment construction has become in Lawrence. It found that 2013 was the seventh consecutive year that the number of new apartment units built in the city exceeded the number of single-family and duplex units constructed.

Not to be overdramatic, but that’s a contender for stat of the year. That’s the type of trend that will change a city in a lot of ways. If plans for a new apartment building near Memorial Stadium move forward, that trend may well continue in 2014.

The report also compared Lawrence to 10 other area communities. In general, Lawrence fared OK in that comparison. The city’s housing rebound seems to be in the middle of the pack or slightly above.

But there was one area that seemed curious. Lawrence has the fourth-largest population of the 11 communities studied. But the number of commercial building permits — permits for new business construction — ranked eighth on the list. Only Emporia, Baldwin City and Eudora ranked below Lawrence. Smaller communities such as Manhattan, Lenexa, Salina, and even unincorporated Douglas County ranked ahead of Lawrence.

You can read the full report here.

More LJWorld City Coverage

  • Town Talk blog
  • Local news
  • Sign up for the Town Talk newsletter
  • Follow @clawhorn_ljw on Twitter