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The Lawrence argument that won't end: To build more retail or to not build more retail; commissioners prepare to hear SLT shopping center proposal on Tuesday

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Get your pointing finger limber, and your vocal chords warm. We’re set to engage in a great Lawrence tradition this week: arguing over whether Lawrence should build a shopping center.

City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting are scheduled to vote on some rezoning and planning issues for the KTen Crossing shopping center project, which would add about 250,000 square feet of new retail and commercial space at the southeast corner of the SLT and Iowa Street interchange.

The development group has said it has Academy Sports, Old Navy, HomeGoods, Fresh Market and either Designer Shoe Warehouse or Off Broadway Shoes ready to become anchor tenants for the project.

The line already has been drawn, and various groups firmly have planted themselves for or against the project. That is what we tend to do in Lawrence. Every few years Lawrence has battles about whether to build a new retail project. The Super Target center, the now defunct Borders bookstore downtown, the Home Depot project at 31st and Iowa, a proposed Lowe’s near Sixth Street and Follks Road and the Wal-Mart near Sixth and Wakarusa are a few that easily come to mind.

On the side pushing for approval of this project are, of course, the developers, a group based out of North Carolina that builds shopping centers in a host of communities across the country. The city also has received a number of letters from residents supporting the project, including several from people who are associated with the pro-business group called Cadre Lawrence.

On the side pushing to deny the project there are several groups including the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods, and KU urban planning professor Kirk McClure, who has become the thought-leader for the Association of Neighborhoods on many issues related to economic growth in Lawrence.

Also worth noting is that both the city’s professional planning staff and the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission are recommending approval of the project. That is different from in 2014 when the project was proposed to be about 500,000 square feet. At that size, the project didn’t win a positive recommendation, but the Planning Commission rethought the proposal when the development group decided to cut the size of the project in half.

This aerial photo from Sept. 5, 2015 shows the interchange of south Iowa Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. A shopping center project called KTen Crossing was proposed at the southeast corner of the interchange, below center.

This aerial photo from Sept. 5, 2015 shows the interchange of south Iowa Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. A shopping center project called KTen Crossing was proposed at the southeast corner of the interchange, below center. by Richard Gwin

This August 2015 plan shows a concept for a retail center at the southeast corner of the South Lawrence Trafficway/Iowa Street interchange.

This August 2015 plan shows a concept for a retail center at the southeast corner of the South Lawrence Trafficway/Iowa Street interchange.

City commissioners have held their cards close to their vest. Commissioner Matthew Herbert during the campaign made statements indicating he would support the project, especially since it has not asked for any tax breaks or other public incentives. Commissioner Leslie Soden made statements during the campaign indicating she had concerns with the proposal. The other three commissioners have been tough to read, but I’ve seen signs they are each open to the idea of approving the project. Whichever side can get two of the three to come to their side of the line will win the day.

The arguments in this matter basically will be twofold. Supporters will argue the community has too many Lawrence residents leaving town to shop due to a lack of retailers. They’ll also argue that we could get a few out-of-town shoppers — think Baldwin City, Eudora, rural Douglas County and Franklin County — if we offered some big box retailers that were more convenient than what is offered in Johnson County.

Opponents will argue that Lawrence already has too many retailers, that our incomes aren’t high enough to support more retail spending, that additional retail development will hurt downtown and other existing retailers, and that Lawrence can’t really compete with the retail offerings of Johnson County and Topeka.

Here’s my prediction: We’ll still be arguing about all those issues well after Tuesday night’s meeting is complete. I’ve covered the city’s business scene since 1992, and this basic argument has never gone away. And, when you think about it, why should it? What has the city ever done to try to end the argument? For the most part, the same groups of people come to a city commission lectern every few years and talk about how the other side is wrong and how they are right.

Nothing I’m about to write should be construed as arguing for a delay on this project — the KTen Crossing proposal already has dragged on for a long time — but, could the community benefit from an objective third party that could provide some guidance on retail issues?

Here’s a look at just two points that could perhaps benefit from a trusted third-party:

• McClure, as he often does, has written a letter to city commissioners detailing why the project ought to be rejected. Let me say this up front: I respect McClure. Unlike some people who step to the lectern of a public meeting, he does spend a lot of time researching and thinking about the issues. But his findings often are not universally accepted. There is one statement in his recent letter that I suspect will be a lighting rod for debate: “More stores do not create more spending. Rather, only more income in the community can drive growth in the economy. As a result, more stores do not create more spending, more sales taxes, more retail jobs or more value of retails buildings.” That’s written as a fact, but is it?

What if everybody’s income stays the same, but a new store opens in town that causes people to buy their goods in Lawrence rather than drive somewhere else to buy them? Wouldn’t that cause the amount of sales taxes collected in Lawrence to increase, even though incomes haven’t? I think some folks will argue that is what has happened recently with the opening of Dick’s Sporting Goods in Lawrence. Ask parents with school-age children whether they have bought any items at the Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Lawrence that they normally would have traveled out of town to purchase.

I called McClure to talk with him about the letter and that statement. He acknowledged that it is possible for a community’s sales tax collections to grow by reducing the number of shoppers who leave town. But he just doesn’t think that happens very often.

“It can happen, but the odds are pretty slim,” he said, adding that it usually take a super magnet store, like a Costco, to really move the needle.

McClure thinks proponents of new shopping centers overestimate the number of residents who are leaving Lawrence to shop and the number of residents who can be persuaded to keep their dollars at home.

“A very few shoppers from Lawrence will drive to KTen Crossing rather than Johnson County or Topeka,” McClure writes. “This will probably be a number too small to measure.”

Is that what an unbiased expert in the retail field believes? I don’t know. I don’t think the city does either.

• As developers often do, they commissioned a study from an expert they have hired. The retail market report by the developer’s expert talks about how the additional retail space will be well received in the community. The developers have used the findings of that study to make a specific statement: 40 percent of all Lawrence retail dollars spent on apparel are being spent outside of Lawrence.

That number is either accurate or inaccurate. I have no idea which. It would be nice to simply assume that it is true since it came from a professional in the field, but experts hired by developers are going to do nothing to ease the minds of skeptics. But could the city at some point hire an unbiased party to look at that number and others? Hire somebody to paint a picture of Lawrence’s retail scene, and more importantly help us understand what is reasonable? If Lawrence is losing 40 percent of its apparel dollars, how much do other communities lose? What is reasonable for Lawrence to expect, given that it is so close to Topeka and Kansas City?

There are people out there who could provide reasonable answers to those questions and others. Somebody, for example, needs to figure out what is a reasonable expectation for downtown Lawrence’s retail future. Recently, the number of retail outlets in downtown has fallen. Should that be alarming, or will the amount of new residential construction underway in downtown change that trend?

And what about the area near Rock Chalk Park? It is zoned for more than 400,000 square feet of commercial space, but none has been built yet despite it being on the market for years. Why not? There may well be a sentiment on the City Commission to deny the KTen Crossing because it will further delay the development of the Rock Chalk Park area. City commissioners are right to consider ways to create retail districts throughout the community, but if the city denies KTen Crossing in order to spur development at Rock Chalk Park, are they doing anything more than keeping their fingers crossed?

There won’t be any unbiased third party that comes to the rescue prior to Tuesday’s meeting. Commissioners will have to decide this issue the old-fashioned way: wade through argument after argument.

I’m not sure there ever will be a third party that can help us out with our retail argument. McClure and I agreed on a key point when we chatted recently: Any attempt to hire a third-party consultant to help City Hall understand the retail market would spark a massive argument. One side would argue Consulting Firm A is a shill for the development industry. The other side would argue Consulting Firm B is a pawn of the no-growth crowd.

Meanwhile, one point that isn’t argued: The city budget relies a lot on sales tax dollars. At least this argument isn’t a petty one.

Comments

Sue McDaniel 2 years, 4 months ago

Well said as always Chad! You manage to show both sides of the issue. Being pro K10 I see this as a positive vote but understand the concerns you mention. I think the sales tax dollar increase is a great point.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 2 years, 4 months ago

This is nothing new. The voters, the few who even bother to vote in city elections keep electing these no-growth dolts who are opposed to most every progressive development and every "fossil fuel" vehicle in town. This is nothing new. We continue to see the dragging of feet, the presentation of no-growth in the community, and the general malady of sending customers to Topeka and the Kansas City area. This is nothing new. You (few) voted these clowns in to local office.

This is nothing new.

Live with it.

David Holroyd 2 years, 4 months ago

Is it true that some of the land is KDOT "right of way"? It sure appears to be so. If so, that is public land. Wasn't Mr Dan Watkins an attorney connected with KDOT, the same Mr Watkins that was hired to represent the Just Food board.

So, is the center planned to be built on public land?

Please tell me, the fancy maps are soooo confusing!

Jason Johnson 2 years, 4 months ago

If the city allows the project to be built, they CANNOT give the developers any tax credits, abatements, or any other incentives.

The retail project will work, or it won't, but not at the expense of our tax dollars. If it works, great! More income tax for Lawrence!

If it fails, then that property can be acquired by local businesses for expansion, etc.

Use all our past failings and do this one right. If the developers are so sure it will work out, then they won't need any benefits or incentives.

Jason Johnson 2 years, 4 months ago

Also, I think more people will shop at the new location than at the Rock Chalk Park. That location is too far out of everyone's way. I'd just as soon drive to Kansas City than drive all the way over to the RCP. Whereas the K10 area is already by a lot of other businesses that people are shopping at.

Plus I'd really like to see another gas station there. That one by Best Buy isn't in the best of locations.

Mel Wedermyer 2 years, 4 months ago

So you wouldn't drive all the way to Rock Chalk Park because it is to far???? What about all of us that live in the Northwest part of town and have to drive to South Iowa to do our shopping. Is that fair..... I try to shop in Lawrence whenever I can. Sounds like you would rather shop in KC. Spread the shopping businesses all over town & not just in one or two large areas.

Cille King 2 years, 4 months ago

The League of Women Voters of Lawrence/Douglas County also oppose this proposed retail development and have written letters to the Planning Commission in 2014 and 2015.

The League opposes this for many reasons: 1) Building in the floodplain and the impact on land owners downstream. 2) Retail development in this location will encourage growth (sprawl) outside of the city limits. 3) Truck stop fears are unwarranted with existing commercial zoning, but more feasible with the requested Regional Commercial (CR), as that and General Industrial (IG) are the only zoning districts permitting them. 4) It is unlikely that this retail center, with downsized (to fit the community) stores will have a "pull factor" and thus little to no additional tax revenue. 5) There is room for many of these retailers to set up shop in already existing locations near other retail shops.

This prime, undeveloped property has great potential to have a great development. The current proposal offers no potential for good paying jobs, innovative design, sustainable features, and only caters to a worn out retail model. We should wait until a better proposal comes to/from Lawrence. There is no reason to sell out to the lowest bidder.

David Holroyd 2 years, 4 months ago

Is some of the land owned by KDOT? Are buildings shown in right of way of KDOT?

That would be public land. Is this true or false?

Is there a deal with KDOT ?

The maps are very confusing!

Steve Jacob 2 years, 4 months ago

Stores like Academy and Old Navy know exactly how much Lawrence people spend at KC/Topeka stores. Menard's had the same information when deciding to move here. How sales tax collections in Lawrence since they opened?

FYI, when a large retail development does want to move to the Rock Chalk area, you will get just as much or more protest then.

Brett McCabe 2 years, 4 months ago

Herbert's bar is pretty high: if it doesn't require an abatement, then it's a go! Brilliant long-term strategy.

And for Jason, simply letting it fail on it's own is not a good option. How long did it take Tanger to refill?

Those who think that the Rock Chalk area isn't viable ought to take a drive out there today. There's probably a 1/2-square-mile section under development right now to the east, and another large section to the southeast. There is a lot going on there with more on the way. We need a commission who can think a little long-term and see what's coming, not just constantly react to the latest bad idea.

John Sickels 2 years, 4 months ago

If I had any capital (which I don't), I'd be building a gas station and attached fast food restaurant with drive-thru out near Rock Chalk, grab all those people getting on and off K-10. Huge opportunity there...hard to believe none of the local business types have done that yet.

Wayne Kerr 2 years, 4 months ago

John, a local business type has already done that, only on a much larger scale. It was a huge opportunity and someone already bought a bunch of farmland on the edge of town for cheap and made a deal with the city to develop the farm and bring in an attraction for them. They "donated" part of the land in the far corner of the field (as a rental to the city) in exchange for 10 million dollars of infrastructure like roads, sewers, traffic lights, and got the city to pay for all the maintenance and other expenses and decided to call it something fancy like Rock Chalk Park. Now that the infrastructure is in place and the attraction (Rock Chalk) is all in place and they don't have to pay to maintain it, they can develop the rest of the farm on the cheap and probably have their own tax district thrown in to make sure their family will be bringing in millions of dollars every year for the rest of their lives. Yeah, I wish I had some capital or my own tax district to raise more capital, too.

Cille King 2 years, 4 months ago

What are the costs to the city of Lawrence for road improvements, traffic lights, sewer and water if this is approved. The citizens ought to know how much we will be paying.

John Sickels 2 years, 4 months ago

As for the KTen project, I am all for developing that area. I am not overly impressed with this specific proposal from this specific North Carolina group....I'd rather someone local be building it as long as it isn't Fritzel, or at least have something with more of a green or Lawrence character than what has been presented.

But in general I would probably vote for this with some hesitation.

Samantha Martin 2 years, 4 months ago

"The city also has received a number of letters from residents supporting the project, including several from people who are associated with the pro-business group called Cadre Lawrence."

Cadre Lawrence is 100% responsible for Jeremy Farmer's rise to fame. Next time you see Zak Bolick, Gary Rexroad or Sue Hack be sure and thank them for giving us Jeremy.

What has Cadre done to better Lawrence..... nothing.

Larry Sturm 2 years, 4 months ago

I just read in the paper a couple of weeks ago that Lawrence was lagging behind Topeka and Manhattan in retail so go with it.

Ken Easthouse 2 years, 4 months ago

My only real concerns with the project as it is currently planned is the fact that a sizable portion of the new development sits within the flood plain. I've spoken with several geologists who study the area and are familiar with the development, and the opinions range from "don't ever build in a flood plain" to "if you build, have a good plan."

I am not as concerned about urban sprawl as others, admittedly. Additionally, the reduction of retailers downtown is an interesting statistic, although I'm not sure if it is an effect of too many retailers in town or proof of needing more. Intelligent people can make the argument either way. The fact we do rely on sales tax revenues while pointing out 40% of Lawrence shoppers go out of town is certainly a correlation worth mentioning.

Overall, I'm most interested to hear how Commissioner Larsen votes on this. I suspect it will pass, but I'd like to see how much the flood plain issue impacts someone who was a scientist in this field.

Kristine Matlock 2 years, 4 months ago

A good chunk of that 40% of Lawrence residents shopping out of town is because we also work out of town. It's easier to stop at places near work. I know this is the case for many of us. I would have to drive across Lawrence to do much of my shopping. I only have to drive a short distance from work to hit most stores I would need (and can do it at lunch instead of fighting traffic after work in Lawrence).

Many of us are concerned about sprawl. Build in town instead of building on the outskirts.

Clara Westphal 2 years, 4 months ago

One of the problems with keeping businesses in downtown Lawrence is the high rent they have to pay.

Janet Dehnert 2 years, 4 months ago

I am in favor of this proposed development. I say this as someone who was opposed to building a mall in Lawrence decades ago. I live close to downtown and buy as many goods as I can there (or close to there) - but unfortunately, not all of the goods I need are available from the current merchants. So my options are to run to Kansas City or jump on line. I would much rather my sales tax dollars benefit Lawrence then not. I hardly think I am in the minority on this.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 4 months ago

Lawrence,Kansas = "Always Low Wages" and about one third of Lawrence consumers out of town for a total of 120 days in which the entire retail community feels this loss big time.

The only way "shop till you drop" can succeed is IF 50% of surrounding retail compounds in other communities go out of business.

The biggest profiteers will the agencies selling the land and the folks that which own the land. That is where the local pay back stops.

The largest reason these retail centers will not maximize their investments us because Lawrence,Kansas is surrounded by larger choices throughout the KCMO metro,Olathe, The Legends,Topeka etc etc etc. All but a few minutes away from much more attractive pricing and wayyyyyyyyy more choices of stores.

Reckless Growth and nonsense tax incentives increases taxes and drains our wallets.

Reckless Growth Does Cost Taxpayers More http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/report00/intro.asp

The trend is downtown http://www.nbcnews.com/id/30810275/#.UlUyt2Tk8Wc

Local Corporate Welfare - http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/01182008/transcript.html

David Cay Johnson – What exactly is TIF? Can we say Free Lunch http://www.democracynow.org/2008/1/18/free_lunch_how_the_wealthiest_americans

America is Over Stored http://www.newsweek.com/id/112762

Next Decade Has Bleak Growth Prospects http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/01/03/us-usa-economy-dismal-idUSTRE6021LK20100103?feedType=RSS&feedName=businessNews&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+reuters%2FbusinessNews+%28News+%2F+US+%2F+Business+News%29

Richard Heckler 2 years, 4 months ago

The only way "shop till you drop" can succeed is with a .3% unemployment rate and all of the working class are making no less than $64,500 a year. How can this take place with the boys from Wichita and their puppets in Topeka working tirelessly to reduce wages across the board.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/11/20/is-an-upcoming-supreme-court-case-a-strike-for-individual-rights-or-a-deceptive-attack-on-teachers-unions/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/23/right-to-work-laws_n_6737130.html

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Americans_for_Prosperity

Minimum wage and the living wage cannot support a massive over loaded retail market.

David Holroyd 2 years, 4 months ago

So again, the center will be built on KDOT right of way?

HOW? Is KDOT selling land, public land in a backdoor deal?

Richard Heckler 2 years, 4 months ago

Do Lawrence shoppers aka taxpayers realize how much more convenient shopping will impact their bank accounts?

http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/report00/intro.asp

Is Lawrence,Kansas expecting too many tax dollars from the locals to create the appearance of success?

"“More stores do not create more spending. Rather, only more income in the community can drive growth in the economy. As a result, more stores do not create more spending, more sales taxes, more retail jobs or more value of retails buildings.”

A major population growth might help however that has not happened. Wages moving up significantly might help but that has not happened.

Then what existing business is doing less business as a result of Dick's coming to town or as a result of another grocery store coming to town? How many existing retail units are doing less business as a result of new retail?

How many existing business units are finding it ever more difficult to meet their margins or perhaps are not meeting their margins due to new retail?

Are the new retail units actually meeting their margins and are the new units also reducing the number of initial employees?

How many employees are being terminated due to loss of business?

Are there too many grocery stores in Lawrence,Kansas? Some grocery stores say yes.

Are their too many "eating out establishments" in Lawrence,Kansas? Some will say yes.

How much does Economic Displacement cost Lawrence,Kansas?

Will Lawrence,Kansas ever reproduce the shopping opportunities aka choices and pricing that come with Oak Park and the immediately surrounding retail choices?

Bob Smith 2 years, 4 months ago

Hey, a link from 15 years ago! Way to stay timely!

Keiv Spare 2 years, 4 months ago

According to the city's online map (http://gis.lawrenceks.org/flexviewers/lawrence/), a small part of the project is currently KDOT right-of-way (the portion north of the current alignment of 1250 Road). I assume this portion will be purchased by the developer, and that a public access easement will be granted through the development for the re-aligned 35th Street / 1250 Road. The vast majority of the property is owned by Armstrong Management LC of mailing address c/o Ruby M. Armstrong 3409 Seminole Drive in Lawrence.

Jack Altman 2 years, 4 months ago

Great article and I see both sides. But I feel that this will become a destination center for customers from Topeka to Eudora and Baldwin. Outside spending will grow Lawrence tax base without Lawrence spending. These are stores that Lawrencians now shop by going to KC or Topeka or Legends. That outside spending will grow Lawrence and also result in residential growth in areas adjacent to the center.

Cille King 2 years, 4 months ago

There is no reason to believe that this will be a destination shopping center for people out of town. Topeka and KC have a much larger choice and larger selections within larger stores. The idea that residential development will happen near this proposed development and in the county (this development is at the edge of the city) is reason enough to oppose KTen Crossing.
Sprawl, the expansion of building beyond the developed city, and reached only by motor vehicle, is the opposite of a sustainable city.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 years, 4 months ago

To build or not to build. If they don't want us tax payers to help them build, then fine. But wouldn't it be nice if the city, and the local Chamber would try and attract some businesses that pay a living wage. That should be the major focus. Retail workers can't make much of a living.

Cille King 2 years, 4 months ago

How much will us tax payers be footing the bill for infrastructure to develop this site?

David Holroyd 2 years, 4 months ago

Mr Kiev Spare, you raised the same questionI have, but better yet how can KDOT sell this land without opening the parcel to the public. Maybe Chad knows the answer. It is public land!

Did Mr Dan Watkins attorney for Just Food board have a connection to KDOTand now is the attorney involved in this land for the proposed shopping center?

Quite frankly. Lawrence is really sleazy in the way things are done at City Hall.

Chad, can KDOT make private deals with public land?

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