News on Buffalo Wild Wings opening date on south Iowa, closing date in downtown; Lawrence gets a peek at how other cities maintain sidewalks

Last night at a Lied Center Halloween costume contest, one of the winners was dressed like a piece of sushi. That costume would be safe at my doorstep, unless I was in the mood to fish. But as a court file somewhere can attest, a chicken wing ringing my doorbell is a different matter. (Who would have thought glazing someone with 55 gallons of wing sauce would cause “emotional scars?”) All this is to say that I have some news about Buffalo Wild Wings and its plans to leave downtown and open on south Iowa Street.

The regional manager for the company now tells me that Buffalo Wild Wings will open at its new location at 27th and Iowa on Dec. 8. It plans to close its downtown location on Massachusetts Street on Nov. 18.

“We’re thrilled about the move,” said Torey Wallace, regional manager for the chain. “It is something we have been trying to accomplish for four or five years.”

Wallace said downtown parking issues were part of the reason the company decided to move. The restaurant promotes itself as a great place to watch a game, and it became difficult for some customers to show up a little before game time and find an easy place to park, Wallace said. Plus, the company was interested in having a newer building with more space. Wallace said more outdoor space was particularly important. The new location will have a covered, heated patio that can seat 50. That’s a big upgrade from the approximately four outdoor tables that Wild Wings has at its downtown location.

Wallace said the higher ceilings with the new building also will allow for Wild Wings to create its more traditional arrangement of television sets. The downtown location has a lot of TVs, but some of them are a little small, Wallace said. The smallest in the new location will be 55 inches, and most will be a lot bigger than that. (I don’t even know why they make TVs smaller than 55 inches. Every room can accommodate a television at least that big. Even my bathroom fits a 60 inch TV, once I removed the vanity and the shower.)

In case you are confused about where Wild Wings is locating, it will be in the new building under construction at the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets. It basically will be caddy-corner from the new Dick’s Sporting Goods location.

The downtown location has been a popular location for college kids who want to catch a game on TV. Wallace said the new location may lose some walk-in business from people who make their way from the football stadium to downtown, but he said he’s confident the new location will continue to be convenient for students, noting the large number of apartment complexes in south Lawrence and the dorms that are just up the street from the new location. But Wallace said he’s particularly excited that the new location will offer easier access to a broader section of the community.

Wallace said all the existing staff members at the downtown location have been offered jobs at the new location.

In other news and notes from around town:

• There will be lots of folks using the sidewalks tonight for Halloween, and they may find some of those sidewalks in scary condition. Sidewalks are a topic of conversation these days with city commissioners.

The city auditor recently completed a sidewalk audit, but it didn’t get into a lot of detail about how bad the sidewalks are in certain areas of town or anything like that. Rather, it largely focused on whether the public works department was doing a good job of tracking the condition of sidewalks in the community. The audit largely found the department was doing a good job.

Tracking the condition of the sidewalks is good, but as several folks have noted, the city doesn’t have much of a plan for repairing sidewalks. The city builds a few sidewalks each year to fill in gaps, but it hasn’t done a lot in terms of repairing sidewalks. That’s because state law says sidewalk maintenance is the responsibility of property owners who have sidewalks that run through their properties. The law gives the city the ability to force owners to fix sidewalks, or else the city can fix them and place a special property tax assessment on their properties. But that is a time-consuming process and doesn’t win politicians a lot of fans among property owners. Plus, some of the worst sidewalks are in lower income neighborhoods, where a special assessment could create some financial hardships.

But the audit pointed out there are some communities that have figured out ways to create a maintenance program for their sidewalks. The audit found there is no standard formula for how cities deal with sidewalk issues, but the report highlighted three approaches.

• Iowa City uses a program that divides the city into 10 areas. The city inspects one area each year. Inspectors physically mark each section of sidewalk that needs repair. Property owners receive a written summary of the repairs that are needed. Property owners can choose to make those repairs on their own, or they can let the city make the repairs. The city seeks bids for all the repairs required in a district. The repairs are then made, and each property owner is billed for the cost of the repair, plus a $25 administrative fee. If property owners don’t pay, the amount is placed on their property tax bill as a special assessment. The city has had the system in place for about 20 years.

• Ann Arbor, Mich., received approval from voters to create an 1/8th of a mill property tax for five years to fund sidewalk maintenance work. Over the five-year period, repairs will be made across the city. It should be noted, though, that there is a twist here. Ann Arbor’s sidewalks had fallen into such disrepair that it is under a consent decree ordering it to bring its facilities into compliance with current ADA standards by 2018. Prior to this new program, it looks like Ann Arbor used a system similar to Lawrence’s, where it tried unsuccessfully to get property owners to make some repairs.

• Corvallis, Ore., does systematic inspections to identify sidewalks that need repair. The public as a whole pays for the repairs via a monthly fee that is added onto utility accounts. Currently, the fee is 80 cents per month. The fee system has been in place since 2011. City Manager David Corliss several years ago proposed something similar to this, but the idea never gained any political traction at City Hall.

But this commission operates with a different set of tires than past commissions, so we’ll see if the idea goes anywhere in the future. Commissioners haven’t yet said what plans they have for sidewalks, but I’m sure they’ll be asked about it during next year’s City Commission elections. It is a big issue with some neighborhood groups.