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Topeka-based financial services company moving headquarters to west Lawrence; city moving ahead with ice rink; new affordable housing coalition forms
I've gotten word that a Topeka-based financial services company is moving its corporate offices and about 35 well-paying jobs to Lawrence.
Personalized Brokerage Services is moving into about 8,000 square feet of space at the Wakarusa Corporate Centre near 18th and Wakarusa Drive in west Lawrence. Renovation of the space is nearly complete, and the company is expected to move in next week, said Randy Goldsmith, the commercial real estate agent with CB Richard Ellis who brokered the deal on behalf of the Corporate Centre's ownership group.
Personalized Brokerage Services — or PBS as it frequently brands itself — is part of Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, which in turn is part of Allianz SE, which operates the PIMCO fund and other large financial institutions.
PBS is a company that provides a host of business services to independent financial services companies. According to online job listings for PBS, the company offers advertising, public relations, media planning, interactive design, lead generation, strategic planning and several other services to independent brokers and others in the financial services industry.
It looks like the company has been in business for about 25 years. I've got a call into the company to try to find out more information about the pending move.
Goldsmith said the company began looking at moving to Lawrence because it had several employees who lived in Lawrence and Kansas City. In Topeka, the company was based in an office park near Wanamaker Road and Interstate 70.
"It will be a good company for Lawrence," Goldsmith said. "There is no doubt about that."
The deal also is another sign of renewed momentum for the Wakarusa Corporate Center. If you remember more than a decade ago, the Wakarusa Corporate Centre was planned to be about a 300,000 square-foot office development with four buildings on a campus-like setting. Only the first building was ever constructed, and office demand in Lawrence ended up being weaker than expected. But in recent years, the building has been successful in attracting some larger companies, particularly some companies looking to move from Topeka to Lawrence.
The Corporate Centre's other large tenant is Great American Insurance, a crop insurance company that moved about 60 employees from Topeka to Lawrence in 2007. That deal was brokered by Lawrence businessman Greg DiVilibiss, who was a leader of the former ownership group that developed the center and still owns much of the vacant ground around the office building.
Goldsmith said the building is now 88 percent leased, and he's in discussions on some other deals to fill the remaining space.
In other news and notes from around town:
• As I mentioned, PBS is part of the insurance behemoth Allianz, and it is looking more likely that I'm going to need to update my insurance policies. Why? Two words: Ice skates.
The idea of a seasonal, outdoor ice skating rink in downtown Lawrence is moving closer to reality. Officials with Lawrence Parks and Recreation have told me they have won approval from the board of the Lawrence Public Library to proceed with plans for a seasonal rink that would operate in the plaza area between the expanded library and the new city-owned parking garage.
Now, parks and recreation leaders just need to get city commissioners to approve what is expected to be up to $130,000 in expenditures to purchase the necessary equipment for the rink. We first reported on the idea in December, and noted that it had some good support from City Manager David Corliss, who is interested in finding ways to draw more people to downtown during the winter shopping season.
But we subsequently reported that library leaders had some concerns. Recently, though, architects have completed conceptual plans for the plaza area between the library and the parking garage, and were able to show how the ice rink could fit into the space and still leave lots of rooms for other uses in the area.
Ernie Shaw, the city's director of parks and recreation, said current plans are for the ice rink to be in place from about Thanksgiving to New Year's. The city hopes to find a corporate sponsor for the rink, and also would charge an admission fee to skaters. The department is planning to hold down operating costs by using artificial ice, which cuts down on the energy bills needed for refrigeration of a traditional rink.
Shaw said Gladstone, Mo. operates a community rink with artificial ice, and reviews of the surface have been good there and elsewhere that it is used.
The Lawrence rink, which is proposed to be 60 feet by 80 feet, would be on one of three large terraces planned for the plaza area. The rink would be on the terrace closest to Vermont Street, and would be in front of a large bank of windows in the library.
"If they wanted, parents could sit in the library and look out over the ice rink while their kids skated," Shaw said.
As for the plaza area, Shaw said he thinks there is a lot of potential for unique events.The plaza area could easily accommodate more than 200 people, Shaw said. The system of three terraces will create a kind of a natural amphitheater to host performances. Shaw said architects are designing the area with plenty of electrical connections to accommodate the needs of bands and other performers. The adjacent parking garage also was built with public restrooms designed to serve events taking place at the plaza.
"The area is not going to accommodate concerts of 10,000 people or anything like that, but it is going to be a nice area for a variety of events," Shaw said.
Shaw said the Lawrence Public Library always will have first opportunity to book events for the plaza area, but he said the parks and recreation department will maintain the area and will operate a booking system for the plaza.
Shaw said he hopes to have information to present to city commissioners about the ice rink within the next one to two months. He said the department's goal is to have the rink in place for the 2014 holiday season.
• If you are interested in the issue of affordable housing in Lawrence, there's an event this evening (Wednesday, May 14) that may interest you. A new group called the Lawrence Affordable Housing Coalition is meeting at 7 p.m. in the conference room of the Sandbar Subs/Peoples bank building at Eighth and New Hampshire streets.
The group is being led by Robert Baker of Lawrence's Tenants to Homeowners, and Leslie Soden, a former Lawrence City Commission candidate and East Lawrence neighborhood leader.
The idea of a lack of affordable housing in Lawrence was an issue you heard a lot about in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In recent years, the issue hasn't gotten as much discussion, but Soden told me it deserves more attention.
The coalition took note of a recent Journal-World article that reported federal figures found Lawrence to be the most expensive city in the state to live, because of its high housing prices and relatively low incomes. The coalition also has been doing its own research. It estimates Lawrence renters in an average two-bedroom apartment would need to have jobs that pay at least $16.54 per hour in order to avoid spending more than 30 percent of their monthly incomes on housing.
Some cities — see a recent plan by New York City – have been using new government regulations to encourage more affordable housing. Soden said she doesn't have any specific solutions she is pushing for as part of the coalition's work. Instead, she said the first few meetings of the group will be designed to set some goals and figure out a more specific mission for the new organization.