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Some merchants may be asked to pay higher fee to be part of Downtown Lawrence sidewalk sale; fun center idea still alive; Wal-Mart plans to reopen recycling center
I am used to the Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale costing me significant money. (How significant? I find it is easier to measure it in Brinks trucks rather than actual dollars.) But now costs may be rising for some businesses that participate in the sale as well.
Downtown Lawrence Inc. is looking to crack down on businesses that are participating in the sale but aren't registering and paying the accompanying fee to Downtown Lawrence Inc.
But the nonprofit downtown group will need some help from Lawrence City Hall to tighten the rules. City commissioners in the next few weeks are expected to decide whether to wade into the thicket. Whether it gets as messy as that "disagreement" regarding who had the last 40 percent off Jayhawk golf shirt, I can't say. (Really, my attorney tells me to never talk about that "incident" any more.)
The issue, though, seems to have the makings of a debate. On one hand it involves the ability of some businesses to cheaply use the sidewalks they help pay for. On the other hand, it involves some businesses taking advantage of a bunch of money spent by Downtown Lawrence Inc. without being a member of that group.
Here's the situation: Downtown Lawrence Inc. is the official sponsor of the sidewalk sale. The group spends about $4,000 per year on advertising for the event, plus other money for portable toilets, cooling stations, event insurance, and other such items. The expenses are paid for through $400 per year membership dues that downtown businesses pay to be a part of Downtown Lawrence Inc.
Not all merchants downtown, however, choose to be a member of Downtown Lawrence Inc. But on sidewalk sale day, those merchants can simply go to City Hall and buy a sidewalk sale permit for $10. Technically, you don't even have to be a downtown merchant to get the permit, although there is some language that you need to have permission from the adjacent property owner to set up a sidewalk booth. At least a dozen businesses last year used that $10 permit process to set up a booth on sidewalk sale day, said Sally Zogry, executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc. Zogry said several other businesses simply skipped the permit process and set up a booth on their own.
What Zogry and her members are proposing is that Downtown Lawrence Inc. be granted exclusive use of the city's right-of-way on sidewalk sale day. In other words, the city would not issue any $10 sidewalk sale permits for that day. Instead, if a business wants to have a booth, it would need to pay a $200 fee to Downtown Lawrence Inc. Zogry said that fee would be applied to membership dues to the organization. But if the business for whatever reason doesn't want to be a member, it can be treated as a one-time sidewalk sale fee.
Zogry said Downtown Lawrence Inc. also wants to limit the business that can participate in the sale to only those that are based in downtown.
"It is not called the Lawrence sidewalk sale," Zogry said, explaining a major goal of the event is to highlight downtown businesses.
Nonprofit groups from outside downtown would continue to be a part of the event. They pay a $100 sidewalk sale fee to Downtown Lawrence Inc.
Zogry said the $200 fee is not unreasonable, given the amount of shoppers the event attracts. The crowd is normally measured in the tens of thousands.
"The event is huge," Zogry said. "There are people who make $50,000 or $60,000 that day."
(And then they make even more when the people in line behind my wife get to check out.)
We'll see how commissioners react to the request. The proposal will create situations where some downtown merchants won't be allowed to set up a booth on the sidewalk in front of their store unless they pay the $200 fee to Downtown Lawrence Inc.
Zogry said she understands some merchants may be upset by that. She said she'll remind those merchants that they can get the $10 sidewalk permit from City Hall any other day of the year.
"They want to have their sale that day because they want to take advantage of the event we pay to put on," Zogry said. "The event has to be paid for, and it is expensive."
Perhaps complicating the matter is that Downtown Lawrence Inc. does receive some public taxpayer subsidy. The city provides about $42,000 in general funding to Downtown Lawrence Inc.
Commissioners will sort it out in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, mark your calendars for the sale. It will be July 17 from sunup to sundown. I've already begun making my preparations: Brinks has been called, and my attorney is on retainer.
In other news and notes around town:
• It may not be as much fun as picking through the sidewalk sale items of Ernst & Son Hardware, but I've heard from many of you that a mini-golf course, go-karts, and other such items would be a welcome addition to town. In other words, a "family fun center" type of business.
Well, although a proposal for a family fun center near Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive has been scuttled after neighbors in the areas expressed concerns, I'm told the idea is not yet dead. Mike Riling, a Lawrence attorney for the development group that proposed the West Lawrence project, says the developers are actively looking for another Lawrence site.
No word yet on where the project may land. Riling indicated the search process is difficult. Land prices are high in Lawrence, and the city's zoning code does place some significant restriction on where such outdoor centers can be located.
At Tuesday's City Commission meeting, commissioners declined to make a change to the city's zoning code that would make it easier to locate an outdoor fun center in neighborhood shopping centers. But commissioners also urged the group to keep looking for a site. Commissioners indicated they may be willing to make some changes to the zoning code to accommodate a well-planned project.
Commissioner Mike Dever went so far as to lament the lack of entertainment options for kids in the city. He said he has frequently heard about that issue from his two daughters during his seven years on the commission.
"Any outdoor activity would be great in this town," Dever said. "Thank goodness we have parks and recreation, but there isn't much of anything else for kids to do."
• These days you can't even have the kids go play in the recycling pile at the Wal-Mart recycling center. The center has been closed for several days. But before you start to worry that the center has shut down in anticipation of the city of Lawrence starting its curbside recycling service in October, don't. A manager at Wal-Mart told me the center had a mechanical problem, and it has taken longer than expected to get it fixed. However, I did inquire about what the long-term future for the recycling center was, but I didn't get much of an answer. That probably will involve a call to Bentonville, Ark. I would expect the center to reopen shortly, but its long-term prospects are something to keep an eye on.