Another day, another Lawrence City Commission candidate.
I reported yesterday that I expect Dr. Terry Riordan to file for a seat on the commission, and I still think that will happen today.
But now I’ve also been told that a Lawrence attorney is set to throw his name into the mix as well.
Michael Rost — a Lawrence resident who works as an attorney for an insurance and financial services company in Topeka — told me he also plans to file the necessary paperwork today.
Rost, 27, said he’ll seek to bring a dose of conservatism to the City Commission when it comes to financial matters, especially incentives for projects. Rost said he followed the issue over whether the city should allow tax dollars to be used to help pay for parking and infrastructure at the recently approved multistory hotel project at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
“I will be very, very conservative about what I think the city should do with taxpayer money,” Rost said. “My perspective would be that you would have to have a very compelling project that benefits everyone in the city to give taxpayer money to help a project like that.
“On a project like the hotel, I would say that if it is a good project that makes sense and makes money, it should be able to stand on its own feet.”
Rost grew up in Wichita, but came to Lawrence in 2003 to do his undergraduate work at KU. He moved to Topeka to earn a law degree from Washburn, but soon moved back to Lawrence. He currently works as an attorney for IMA Financial in Topeka.
While at KU, Rost was part of the KU Track and Field team. Rost, though, said he doesn’t yet have a firm opinion on whether the city should be investing in a proposed Rock Chalk Park that would include the city building a new $25 million recreation center, and KU and Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel building a new track and field stadium and other amenities.
“I like the idea of synergy between the university and the city,” Rost said. “I like that aspect of it, but in terms of some of the specifics about how it would be built and leased, I don’t feel comfortable commenting on that.”
Likely the issue won’t be one City Commission candidates have to deal with. At its current pace, city commissioners are expected to take the key votes to commit the city to the project by mid-February. The new commission won’t take office until April.
In terms of other issues, Rost said he hopes to provide a voice to commuters in the community, and he will emphasize the importance of the commission protecting the livability of Lawrence.
“I think there are maybe some different ideas about the direction of Lawrence, its appeal and what type of community we want to be,” Rost said. “I have seen a lot about trying to make Lawrence some type of tourist destination or Legends West or something. That has struck me as not being in line with the things that I appreciate about the community.”
If Rost and Riordan both file today as expected, there will be four official candidates in the race. Rob Chestnut, a former Lawrence mayor and a chief financial officer for a Topeka publishing company, has filed the a paperwork. So too has Scott Criqui, a member of the city’s Human Relations Commission and an executive with a Lawrence-based home healthcare company.
Indications are that City Commissioner Mike Amyx will file for re-election to the commission. City Commissioner Hugh Carter, however, has chosen not to seek re-election, instead focusing on his new job with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. City Commissioner Aron Cromwell has not announced his intentions, but there are indications he will not seek a second term.
Lawrence Chamber of Commerce takes official stance in favor of $25M recreation center, proposed Rock Chalk Park
It sure feels like the proposal to build a $25 million city recreation center as part of a public-private Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence is entering a new phase.
Another large community group has taken a formal position on the project. This time, it is the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, and the city’s largest business organization is supportive of the project.
“The entire Lawrence community will benefit from this world-class facility,” Doug Gaumer, chair of the chamber's board of directors, said in a statement. “The Rock Chalk Park Sports Park project will help build our community’s infrastructure and enhance the amenities and quality of life that make Lawrence a desirable place to live and work.”
If you remember last week, the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods — the city’s largest neighborhood organization — issued an official position that it thought the city should hold a citywide election on the idea of whether the city should proceed with the $25 million regional recreation center portion of the project. It also expressed concerns that the recreation center project is proposed go through a bidding process that deviates from the city’s typical bidding policy.
The chamber in its statement on Monday said it does not see the need for a citywide election.
“We understand that no tax increase will be necessary for construction of this project and therefore no public vote on the issue is necessary,” Gaumer said in the statement. “We urge the city approve the necessary zoning and special use permit necessary to build Rock Chalk Sports Park, and provide a much-needed and long-overdue amenity for its citizens.”
City commissioners are scheduled to vote on the zoning and the special use permit for the project at their Tuesday evening meeting. Tuesday’s vote, however, doesn’t yet commit the city to build the $25 million recreation center portion of the project.
Commissioners won’t make any commitments to build the recreation center at the site until they have been presented with formal agreements between KU entities and a private company led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel, who are all part of the proposed partnership for the park.
The city is projecting those agreements will be completed by the commission’s Feb. 19 meeting.
Work on new West Lawrence Starbucks progressing; developers still looking for other tenants for the building
“Wwwwhen is that ddddrive-through Ssstarbbbucks going to open?”
That’s the type of jittery e-mails and comments I’ve been getting regarding a new drive-through Starbuck’s in West Lawrence.
It has been more than a year now since we first reported that a Starbucks was slated to be built on the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Champion Lane, yet there are still people having to go through the indignity of getting out of their vehicles to get their morning Starbucks fix.
If you have driven along West Sixth Street lately, you may have noticed a new building has been constructed along the stretch of road in front of Free State High School. That’s the Starbucks site.
I checked in with Lawrence attorney Bill Fleming, who represents the development group on the project, and he confirmed the company turned the space over to Starbucks in mid-December. Fleming, though, didn’t have any word on when Starbucks may be completed with their interior work, which would allow the store to open. In talking with other folks, however, 60 days sounds like a reasonable number, so I would keep an eye out for Starbucks to open in February.
One other thing about the project: Some folks have seen the building and are under the impression that Lawrence is getting some sort of super-sized Starbucks. (And trust me, Starbucks knows how to supersize. I once mistakenly ordered a Venti, and had to ask whether it came with swimming trunks.) But no, Starbucks will not occupy the entire building on Sixth Street.
Fleming said Starbucks will lease about 1,900 square feet of the building, which will leave about 3,000 square feet of space that could be taken by one larger tenant or two smaller ones.
“We think a sandwich shop or something like that would make sense, but we’re not in negotiations with anyone right now,” Fleming said.
The area, though, is gaining momentum. Work is well underway on the new building for Theatre Lawrence, which will be just a few steps from the Starbucks.
Yes, before you have a chance to ask, the Starbucks is in the special taxing district that helps pay for infrastructure in the Bauer Farms Development. Projects in the district charge an extra penny on every $1 in sales made in the district.
I’ll let you know if I hear a specific date for the Starbucks opening.
The clock is now really ticking on folks who are thinking about running for one of three seats up for election on the Lawrence City Commission.
The deadline for candidates to file is noon Jan. 22. For several weeks now I’ve been hearing a new name as a potential candidate for the race: Dr. Terry Riordan.
I haven’t yet talked to Riordan, but my understanding is he is likely to announce his candidacy on Tuesday.
Riordan would go into the race with many Lawrence folks knowing his name. Riordan has been a longtime pediatrician in the city. Riordan also has some City Hall experience. He was a member and chairman of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission in the mid-2000s.
Other folks may know Riordan and his wife, Elaine, as the owners of one of the more unique homes in the city. They own the large house in the 1600 block of Tennessee Street often referred to as the Maupintour Mansion or the Ludington-Thacher House, if you are the type to be more historically accurate.
If Riordan does file as expected, he’ll be the third candidate in the race. Former Lawrence Mayor Rob Chestnut has filed, and so has Scott Criqui, a member of the city’s Human Relations Commission.
All indications are that current City Commissioner Mike Amyx will file for re-election, but he hasn’t done so yet. Current City Commissioner Hugh Carter says he won’t seek re-election, instead focusing on his new job with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. City Commissioner Aron Cromwell also is up for re-election. He hasn’t announced his plans, but there are indications he is leaning against seeking another term.
I think there is still an effort out there by some to recruit a female candidate to the race, but I haven’t heard of any takers yet. During the last election two years ago, no female candidates ran for a seat on the commission, and a woman hasn’t served on the commission since Sue Hack ended an eight-year stint on the commission in 2009.
If seven or more candidates file for the three seats on the commission — they are all at-large seats — there will be a primary election on Feb. 26 to narrow the field to six candidates. The general election will be on April 2.
How about a special Saturday edition of Town Talk.
The citizens group Cadre Lawrence hosted a public forum on the proposed recreation center and Rock Chalk Park project for northwest Lawrence Saturday morning.
Not a whole lot of new information came out of the forum. The panel was made up entirely of supporters of the project, so it wasn’t the type of event where there was much back and forth. Members of the audience also had to submit questions on note cards, so there weren’t many opportunities for the public to voice their opinions on the project.
But here’s a quick look at a few comments made by panel participants.
• Sean Lester, senior associate athletics director for KU, made one of the more definitive statements of the day. He said KU will not be allowing any concerts to be held in the proposed 10,000-seat track and field stadium. He said the risk to the world-class track and field surfaces would just be too great.
But other speakers made it clear that there could be other non-athletic events happening in the Rock Chalk Park. City Commissioner Mike Dever said the community shouldn’t be closing doors on future opportunities when it comes to non-athletic events at the facility.
The parking lot itself — it will have more than 1,400 paved spaces — is large enough to accommodate large events on its own. Think of some of the events that have closed downtown streets in the past. The idea of street dances with adult beverages have become popular in downtown in the last few years. Whether some of those events would migrate to the new location, I’m not sure.
Also not mentioned Saturday morning is just what the mover-and-shakers of this project have in mind with a future amphitheater and an indoor arena. Neither are included in phase one of the project, but there is space mapped out for each of those uses in future phases. Both of those uses seem to indicate that there has been some thought given to the area becoming a concert venue. The information submitted to the city shows a future arena would have “3,000 seats for sporting events and an additional 800 seats for concerts.”
The project leaders seem to be skittish about talking about non-athletic events at the site, I suppose because it could increase opposition from some neighbors. (Although neighbors are few at the moment.) My sense is, however, there would be plenty of people who would be excited about the area becoming a concert venue.
Lawrence is a music town, and an ability to hold larger-scale concerts would add to the economic development impact of the facility. Maybe I’m wrong, though. Maybe the community would revolt against such an idea.
• Lester also confirmed that KU eventually will look to sell naming rights for the park. “Who ever came up with the idea of Rock Chalk Park, that is great,” Lester said. “But we would love to put someone’s name in front of that.”
KU, however, won’t have any ability to sell naming rights for the city’s recreation center. City commissioners would control that process.
• Jana Dawson, a member of the city’s parks and recreation advisory board, said it would cost the city more money to build a recreation center on property the city already owns near Wakarusa and Overland Drive in northwest Lawrence.
That statement probably needs some qualifiers. If you were to build exactly the same size of facility, there are numbers that suggest that is accurate. (Although, it is unclear how fully the city has studied its options at that site.)
But it is worth remembering that in November 2011, city commissioners expressed support for an idea that would build a five gym recreation center with a wellness center, walking track and fitness area for $12 million in public money and about $3 million in private donations.
Since that time the project has grown in both size and cost. The current proposal has eight gyms, an indoor turf area, outdoor lighted tennis courts, a gymnastics area and other features. The cost is now $25 million, plus several million dollars in interest the city will pay on the 20-year bonds it will have to issue to fund the project.
What has remained the same is the city's plans to pay for it through proceeds from an existing sales tax. The money has become available because the city is retiring debt on several other projects, including the Eagle Bend Golf Course and the Lawrence-Douglas County Community Health building. (A previous version of this article also listed the Indoor Aquatics Center. That was a mistake. That debt already has been paid off.)
City Manager David Corliss said the need to have more than five gyms could be supported by national statistics. City officials frequently quote a national statistic that indicates a city of Lawrence’s size ought to have about 18 more gyms than it does.
Corliss also said there were questions about whether the smaller facility would provide much of an economic development benefit to the city in terms of attracting tournaments to town. It should be noted, though, that when the city was discussing the idea of a five gym facility, commissioners were enthusiastic about its ability to attract tournaments to the city. Plus, the nearby New Century Fieldhouse in Johnson County is an 88,000-square-foot facility with four gyms and an indoor soccer field. Officials there have had success in attracting tournaments to the facility. We’ve previously reported that when it opened in June 2011, the project — which renovated a warehouse — had a price tag of $8.2 million plus interest costs.
• City Commissioner Mike Dever clearly has become one of the more passionate supporters of the project. He made a closing statement where he tried to give assurances to the public that the city was poised to make a good investment with the project.
“I know the vision of this facility scares some people,” Dever said. “It is a large project. But I think the city is in as good a position as it can possibly be to take on this project.”
He said it is common to read national publicity about how Lawrence has as rich a basketball history as any community in the country. Yet, he said the city hasn’t done enough to capitalize on it.
“We’re told that the history of basketball is as robust here as it is anywhere, yet we don’t even have enough courts for our kids to play and practice on,” he said. “Our goal on this project has been to measure twice and cut once. We have measured and measured and measured.
“I can tell you that the sum of the parts of this project are more valuable than the individual pieces.”
The public will have a chance to weigh in on the project in a more traditional public hearing format at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, as commissioners consider zoning issues and a special use permit for the project.
Land transfers for week ending Dec. 31, including sales of apartment complexes and Massachusetts Street property
As far as New Year’s resolutions go, this one is pretty lame, but I’m going to try to be more consistent in posting weekly Douglas County land transfers. (Yes, it was kind of awkward shouting that resolution as I sprayed Champagne at the crack of midnight while at my neighbor’s New Year’s Eve party.)
Before we get going, though, a disclaimer: Unless otherwise noted, most of this information is just me relaying information from various public documents from the Douglas County Courthouse and the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office. In an effort to be timely, it is not always possible to contact everyone involved. It is not always easy to ascertain what is going on with a property just by looking at the documents, so I would read these listings as a first draft of activity in the local real estate market. On particularly interesting cases, I’ll try to follow up and report back in the coming days.
So, here we go. This week did produce several interesting sales/transfers of note:
• It looks like a California-based company has made a major purchase of several apartment properties owned by companies led by Lawrence businessman Tim Stultz.
The most recent land transfers show that North Creek Investors LLC purchased apartment properties at 4100 W. 24th Place, 1501 George Williams Way, and several addresses in the 400 block of Eisenhower Drive and the 5200 block of Eisenhower Lane, which is in the developing area just north and west of Congressional and Overland drives.
The 1501 George Williams Way property is listed on the Web as the leasing office for the Ironwood Court apartments, while the 4100 W. 24th Place property is listed as the Remington Square Apartments.
As for North Creek Investors LLC, documents from the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office list it as being a multifamily management company based in Walnut Creek, Calif., and managed by businessman Mark D. Hall. I have a call into Tim Stultz, who has been one of the larger apartment developers in the city, to see if he will continue to play a role in the properties.
• It looks like there may be some activity at an old apartment building recently condemned by the city. In October, the city condemned a 24-unit apartment building at 1821 W. 26th St.
According to the land transfers, a new ownership group has purchased that building plus an adjacent apartment building at 1902 W. 26th St. The new group is called BlueJay Apartments Inc. According to documents from the secretary of state, Lawrence businessmen Timothy J. Allen, James H. Bruce and Rex Tedrow are the partners in the group. Previously, the properties were owned by a group led by Tedrow.
• It appears the vacant lot next to the Eldridge Hotel has changed hands. For years that lot has been owned by a group led by Lawrence investor Dale Miller. But according to the land transfers, the property at 705 and 707 Massachusetts Street — which on Google Maps appears to be the vacant lot just south of the hotel — has been transferred to a group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel, who also leads the group that owns The Eldridge Hotel.
If you remember back in 2010, the hotel formally proposed an expansion of the Eldridge into the vacant lot. It called for a four-story building, 16 new hotel rooms, a restaurant and banquet space with a retractable roof and other features. But then the project never did materialize. Whether this is a sign that a project may get restarted on the property, I do not know.
• The shopping center that houses Hy-Vee, Applebee's and others at Sixth and Monterey Way showed up in the most recent land transfers. Monterey Partners LLC — which is owned by a group of Kansas City, Mo. trusts, led by the trust of metro area real estate leader Robert Johnson — has transferred the property to a new entity called Lawrence Monterey Investors LLC. That entity is so new that the Secretary of State’s Office only lists Scott Slabotsky, the managing director of the large metro accounting firm CBIZ Kansas City, as the organizer of the company. So, it is hard to know whether there actually has been a true change in ownership out there or whether this is just a corporate accounting thing. I’ll try to find out more in the coming days.
Click here to see a full list of the Douglas County land transfers for the week ending Dec. 31.
Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods calls for public vote on recreation center project, expresses concern about bidding process; two public meetings set on project
Activity around a proposed $25 million city recreation center in northwest Lawrence is starting to heat up again.
The latest news: The city’s largest neighborhood group is now officially calling for a citywide election on the project and is expressing concerns that the proposed bidding process won’t adequately protect the public.
Board members of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods last night unanimously agreed to submit comments expressing concern about the proposed process to build a regional recreation center as part of a public-private sports park just north of the northeast intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
“As we see it, the project as proposed falls far short of the desired standard of public bidding and cost certification,” Laura Routh, the newly elected president of LAN told me this morning. “Under the conditions outlined thus far, we have no assurance that taxpayers will get full value for their money.”
LAN also took the position that a citywide election on the project should be held, “given the magnitude of the project and the resulting long-term debt to be incurred by taxpayers.”
Ruth also said LAN is concerned that the city hasn’t fully weighed the recreation center project against other needed city projects.
“LAN is concerned that the city has failed to fully assess this project’s impact on other needed priorities in our community,” Routh said.
It will be interesting to see if LAN’s position robs the project of any momentum at City Hall. Thus far, it appears the project has solid support from four of the five city commissioners. Commissioner Mike Amyx has been the only commissioner to express strong reservations. But LAN is the largest communitywide organization to express such concerns about the project.
Both opponents and supporters of the project will have a couple of opportunities to get engaged with the project in the coming days.
The citizen’s group Cadre Lawrence is hosting a public forum at 10 a.m. Saturday at Fire Station No. 5 at 19th and Iowa streets. The group has assembled a panel that currently consists of City Manager David Corliss, City Commissioner Mike Dever, Senior Associate Athletics Director Sean Lester and Paul Werner, a Lawrence architect for the project.
Cadre Lawrence is billing the event as an opportunity to get answers from people who “are actually in charge of the project.” But the panel doesn’t include Thomas Fritzel nor a representative from the KU Endowment Association, which will own the land and eventually transfer a portion of it over to the city. I think those entities, particularly Fritzel, are who members of the public want to hear from most.
Fritzel is the Lawrence businessman who is providing all the financing to build the KU facilities at the Rock Chalk Park site, and it recently was revealed that he ultimately will own the facilities that KU Athletics will use. As it is currently structured, Fritzel has the inside track to be the builder of the city’s $25 million recreation center through a process that deviates significantly from the city’s standard bidding process.
I think most people would agree that Fritzel is a key driving force in this proposed project, but near as I can tell, he has never publicly outlined his vision or what he sees as his role in the project either at a City Commission meeting or at a public forum.
The Cadre forum will be structured in a way that people can submit their questions via notecards, but it isn’t designed to be a forum where people can come to the microphone and deliver speeches about their thoughts on the project.
People will get that opportunity at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting.
City commissioners will take action to finalize the rezoning of the proposed site, and will get their first look at the special use permit application for the project. Commissioners will hold a public hearing on both of those items.
The details of the special use permit are basically as we have reported them in the past, so I won’t go over all that again. In summary, the main uses include the 181,000 square-foot recreation center, which will be owned by the city; and a track and field stadium, softball stadium, soccer field and other amenities that will be owned by a private group led by Fritzel. Those facilities primarily will be used by Kansas University Athletics, but officials have confirmed that Fritzel will have the ability to use the facilities for other events, if certain conditions are met.
The fact that Fritzel will own many of the facilities on the property was revealed to the public fairly late in the process. It will be interesting to see if that becomes an issue in the zoning and special use part of the project. The zoning for the proposed project is slated to be for “General Public and Institutional Uses.” At least one adjacent land owner to the project has questioned what conditions must be met in order for a private company to own the majority of the facilities on property zoned for public and institutional uses.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. Tuesday’s meeting essentially will clear the way for the Fritzel/KU facilities to proceed at the site. But commissioners aren’t yet taking action committing the city to the recreation center idea. That won’t happen until formal agreements between KU entities, Fritzel and the city are presented to commissioners for consideration.
Holiday season has been replaced by trash season in many Lawrence households.
Most of you surely know how it goes: For every pound in gifts you receive, you most likely have two pounds of packaging and gift wrapping to throw away.
And don’t even get me started about all the trash the holiday dinner produces — napkins, linens, tablecloths, ceiling tiles. (A holiday dinner with a 6-year-old and 9-year-old who know they can’t open presents until they finish their meal, can get a little messy.)
Lots of trash following the holiday season is nothing new, but what is new in Lawrence is the city’s trash system that requires households to use a city-mandated trash cart. Those carts only hold so much trash, and the city has said it expects households only to set out as much trash as will fit in the carts. But the city also has said it basically will give households three times a year where it can exceed those amounts. More than three times a year, though, may result in the city saying you need a larger cart or an additional cart. Those larger carts come with a larger monthly bill.
So, the question has been: Does this holiday season and all the trash it produces count against your three exemptions? The answer: No.
“We are the kinder, gentler, more understanding Solid Waste Division,” said Chuck Soules, the city’s director of public works. “We definitely understand people have visitors during the holidays and are going to have extra trash. We’re more than happy to take extra bags during the holiday season.”
Tammy Bennett, the assistant director of public works who oversees the day-to-day operations of the trash system, said solid waste employees won’t be keeping track of households that set out extra trash either this week or next week.
But Bennett said on most other weeks (move-out and move-in week likely will be exceptions), crews will be keeping records of households that set out more trash than can be contained in their cart.
“We feel like we have to keep track of it to be fair and accurate for everybody,” Bennett said.
Bennett said the department has come up with a slogan that summarizes the city’s policy on extra trash: Take it, tag it, switch it.
The first time a household puts out extra trash, crews simply will take it and move on. The second time, crews will take the trash but also leave a tag reminding the household of the city’s trash policy. The third time, crews will take it but also leave a note indicating the city would be in touch about switching the household to a larger cart.
Bennett, though, said the department was committed to be understanding of special circumstances. For instance, one Town Talk reader mentioned to me how her household had a lot of extra trash because of sewage backup. Bennett said in cases like that, a household can call the city’s solid waste division — 832-3032 — and explain the situation, and the event wouldn’t be counted as one of the household’s three exemptions.
Bennett said the city plans to keep track of the extra trash on a calendar year basis, but she said the system is subject to change as the city learns more about it.
“We have to make sure we are getting it right for the customer,” Bennett said. “Our main goal in this is we want to make sure that customers have the right size container for the majority of the year.”
New owner plans to convert site of troubled North Lawrence mobile home park into single-family neighborhood
Anybody who has ever done a home improvement project with me knows that sometimes you’ve got to make things look a bit worse before they start looking better. (Chad's unofficial home improvement motto: Heck yeah, we need to tear down that wall.)
That seems to be where a once-troubled mobile home park in North Lawrence finds itself. The former Riverview Trailer Park at 827 Walnut St. is in bits and pieces as salvage crews have started dismantling abandoned mobile homes in order to prepare the site for a new single-family housing development.
Mark Bowden of Bowden Complete Construction LLC confirmed to me that he has finalized a deal to purchase the trailer park, which the city cited with multiple sanitation and environmental code violations in April and shut down in August.
But Bowden said he is about to call an end to the salvage part of the operations and bring in heavy equipment to finish the job.
“A day with a big loader out there is going to make the place look a lot better,” Bowden said.
He anticipates cleanup will be completed by Monday. After that, work will begin on creating a new set of plans for the property. Those plans will include building a cul-de-sac through the middle of the property and building 11 single-family homes along the new stretch of road.
Bowden said he anticipates the new houses will be three-bedroom, two-bath homes with two-car garages, and will be priced in the $120,000 range.
“We think they are going to fly off the shelf,” Bowden said.
The new neighborhood will continue a trend of the area — which is near the eastern portion of North Lawrence’s Kansas River levee — becoming a hub for starter housing. Lawrence’s Habitat for Humanity several years ago built a single-family starter housing development, the Comfort Neighborhood, just east of Bowden's land.
Folks in that neighborhood ought to welcome the change. The problems at the Riverview Trailer Park had become one of the city’s messier housing problems in recent years. When city inspectors arrived in April, they found some trailers were emptying raw sewage directly onto the ground and children were congregating around the pools of waste. Faulty electrical wiring and large amounts of debris also were common in the approximately 20 trailers at the park.
Eventually, the city declared that the mobile home park no longer had a valid city permit to operate, and ordered the park closed. By August, all residents had moved out, but left behind were most of the deteriorating trailers, and often piles of discarded personal possessions ranging from old couches to broken toys, and even a toilet on a front porch.
City officials were contemplating undertaking the expense to clean up the property, and hoping to recoup their costs through special assessments placed on future property tax bills. But the city held up on taking that action as it became clear that the mobile home site was drawing interest from potential buyers.
Bowden is paying the cost of cleaning up the property. The property previously was owned by George Warren, a California-based investor. Terms of the recent sale of the park weren’t disclosed, but we previously had reported that the approximately 1-acre tract was on the market for about $190,000.
My understanding is the property already is zoned to accommodate the proposed single-family housing development, but city planners will have to approve specific plans for the development. He said he hopes to start building houses by June.
As I watch the snow on my sidewalk continue to not melt, the summer staple of a homegrown tomato sure sounds good right about now.
This summer, you may have a new farmers market location to buy one. Well, sort of.
Leaders with the Lawrence Farmers Market are proposing a plan to city commissioners to move their Tuesday and Thursday markets to a new downtown location.
Market board members want to move the weekday markets to a spot that is closer to their Saturday market, which is held in the long-term city parking lot in the 800 block of New Hampshire street.
But during the weekdays, that lot is heavily used by downtown employees, so market organizers are proposing a twist. They want city permission to set up vendor booths in the wide grassy area that is between the long-term lot and Rhode Island Street. If your internal Google map is not functioning currently, the area is the city right-of-way just east of the parking lot. It currently serves as a landscaped buffer area between Rhode Island Street and the sidewalk that runs along the eastern edge of the parking lot.
Market organizers estimate the 3,000-square-foot area could accommodate a dozen or so vendor booths. That will put the booths fairly close to the street, but Rhode Island is one of the lesser traveled streets in downtown. City commissioners are expected to receive the request at a special year-end meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday. (Yes, I know the year ended on Tuesday, but perhaps City Hall is using Congress’ Fiscal Cliff calendar.)
Commissioners are expected to ask staff members to study the feasibility of the proposed location.
Whether it is this location or somewhere else, the market will need a new space for its Tuesday market. It has been held for many years in the city parking lot in the 1000 block of Vermont Street. The lot hasn’t traditionally attracted many vehicles, so there always has been plenty of room for the market.
But that has changed. Treanor Architects has completed its project to convert the former Strong’s Office Supply building into a new headquarters for the architecture firm.
The completely revamped and expanded building — which is just south of the parking lot — is now open and housing about 60 employees. Parking demand in the lot has become significantly higher.
The proposed change, however, also represents a shift in strategy for the farmers market’s Thursday event. Last year the market used Thursdays to hold a West Lawrence market at 1121 Wakarusa Drive.
I haven’t yet chatted with any board members of the market, but the group’s letter to City Hall indicates the organization wants to again focus on downtown.
“The Lawrence Farmers Market has a need to regain a cohesive identity as a single market at a single location,” according to the letter. “Moving the weekday markets to 800 Rhode Island is the simplest, cheapest and most effective way to improve our marketing, reduce administrative costs and serve a broader customer base.”
Market organizers are asking that about 10 of the parking spaces in the city’s long-term lot in the 800 block of New Hampshire be reserved as a loading and unloading area for market vendors.
It will be interesting to see if the city gives the green light to the new plan. Early on, there had been some talk about moving the Farmers Market to the new outdoor plaza area that will be created as part of the $19 million public library expansion.
The plans for the parking garage include public restrooms, which were thought to be a drawing card for the farmers market.
But the farmers market may get its restrooms at its current location. A representative with the development group that plans to build a multi-story apartment building at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets previously has indicated the ground floor of the building will include restrooms designed to serve the adjacent farmers market.
I’m guessing that both the development group — which is led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor — and market organizers are keen on the idea of the market staying near the Ninth and New Hampshire intersection.
The intersection already has one multi-story apartment building and plans are in the work for one more, plus a multi-story, extended stay hotel. That’s a lot of new residents who would be within walking distance of the market.
It also will be interesting to see what the move may do to the Cottin’s Hardware Farmers Market. Last year the hardware store at 1832 Massachusetts St. hosted a popular market in its parking lot from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays.
I guess time will tell on that one. Now, the question is whether time will clear my sidewalk of snow, or will my wife stick a snow shovel in my hands?
I don’t think that's the smell of Olive Garden’s all-you-can-eat breadsticks in the air, but I can’t be certain. My wife is taking no chances: She’s digging out her massive breadstick-toting purse, and she is ordering me to dust off my dinner jacket with the really big pockets.
All of this is to say there is activity at the 27th and Iowa site that once was proposed to house the city’s first Olive Garden restaurant, until that deal fell apart when city commissioners balked at providing incentives for the restaurant chain.
A new development plan for the northeast corner of the intersection has been filed at City Hall. The plans call for a 12,700 square foot building to be constructed on the largely vacant site. Half the building would be devoted to a “high turnover sit down restaurant,” while the other half would be used for “general retail shops.” The plans don’t provide any specifics on the restaurant or the retailers that may be going into the location. In case you are having a hard time picturing the site, it is where the old Plum Tree Chinese restaurant used to be, and also the adjacent site where Mazzio’s Pizza used to operate years ago.
The developer — Mission-based MD Management — is the one who proposed the Olive Garden for the site in 2011. But these plans are different than the ones filed when Olive Garden was the proposed tenant for the site. The traffic study also notes the development will produce about 60 percent fewer motorist trips on any given day than the previous proposal. Those all may be signs that we’re talking about a different restaurant, but I don’t really know. Some folks who have insight into these sort of things seem to think that too. I’m doing some asking around, and I also have a call into MD Management.
At the moment, I haven’t seen anything that indicates the development company is seeking any sort of financial incentives, such as special taxing districts or property tax rebates, to develop the site. But I’ll keep my eyes open for that as well.
The property already has the proper zoning for restaurant and retail development, so most of the approvals needed from City Hall are relatively technical ones. Perhaps the answers will reveal themselves in fairly short order.
In the meantime, I have a feeling that since our breadstick garb has been unearthed, my wife and I will be making a trip to an Olive Garden. I just hope its never-ending pasta bowl promotion isn’t going on. You don’t want to know how she makes me smuggle out pasta and marinara sauce.
There are more signs that Lawrence is growing older.
There are at least two new projects in the senior housing industry in Lawrence. City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting are set to finalize a sales tax exemption request for a $2.1 million construction project for Neuvant House in west Lawrence.
As we reported back in July, plans have been filed by Neuvant House to significantly expand its building at 1216 Biltmore Dr. Well, those plans are now moving forward.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Neuvant House is expected to receive industrial revenue bonds, which will allow the project to buy its construction materials without paying sales tax.
The project essentially will double the amount of space Neuvant House has to care for people with dementia and other ailments. The new building — which will be located adjacent to the company’s existing facility — will have 14 private rooms, some of which will be able to accommodate not only the patient but also a spouse.
The facility also will have several common areas, including a living room, an exercise room, a whirlpool room, a beauty shop and other amenities.
Neuvant House’s current facility specializes in treating people with dementia. The new facility will have a broader focus, according to Matthew Stephens, administrator for the Lawrence location. The company has had a waiting list at its current facility since about December 2011.
Construction is expected to begin soon, and probably will take about nine months to complete.
As for the industrial revenue bonds for the project, the state previously had a program that allowed projects like this one to apply for a special sales tax exemption on construction materials. But that program recently was discontinued, and such projects have been instructed to apply for industrial revenue bond financing instead. The city has no obligation to pay the IRBs if there is a default. And with these industrial revenue bonds, the project does not receive a property tax abatement.
The new addition is expected to pay more than $20,000 a year in property taxes, and create 10 new jobs with an average salary of about $30,000 per year. The company will save anywhere from about $55,000 to $90,000 in sales taxes with the exemption, depending on the final cost of construction.
The second project is at the longtime Lawrence retirement community Presbyterian Manor.
The entire Presbyterian Manor group recently refinanced much of its debt, and that freed up $600,000 in funds for the Lawrence facility to renovate its apartments.
The facility at 1429 Kasold Dr. has 73 independent-living townhomes and apartments. The new project is part of a multiyear funding plan to renovate the units. Rhonda Parks, executive director of the facility, said plans call for new kitchens, bathrooms, carpets, tile and other improvements. The work will be done as apartments and townhomes become vacant.
“The market has been good, and we’re very appreciative of that,” Parks said of the demand for senior housing in the community.
The new projects come at a time when the city and county are making a push to boost Lawrence’s appeal as a retirement community. Those efforts include talk of a major “intergenerational neighborhood” that would be built somewhere in the city and would include independent living and retirement home services.
Tuesday night’s Lawrence City Commission meeting ended up being like a baked bean dish at this weekend’s Memorial Day barbecue: It was too much for one sitting. So, here are a couple of leftovers from the meeting.
I have had some people ask me whether Tuesday’s meeting ever produced an explanation about why the city’s cost estimates for the recreation center were so much higher than the actual bids the city received from nine contractors.
After all, the $10.5 million low bid received by the city was significantly less than the $18.4 million and $20.7 million estimates produced by two architects hired by the city.
City commissioners did receive a bit of an explanation. There were several aspects mentioned, but the biggest factor was that architects didn’t account for how much some key commodity prices have fallen, and how competitive the regional construction market has become for large construction projects.
The two architects — the team of CP Sports and KBS Constructors Inc., and Lawrence-based Gould Evans — both noted that several large commodity-oriented bids came in significantly lower than expected. For instance, CP Sports said the bids for steel, HVAC/plumbing and the electrical estimates came in $6 million below its estimates. And Gould Evans said the bids for steel, HVAC and wood flooring came in $4 million below its estimates.
Several of those commodities had been in high demand because of building booms in China and the Middle East, Craig Penzler, an architect with CP Sports, wrote in a memo to city officials. But “with international booms slowing, the large commodity materials are more readily available,” Penzler wrote. “We believe we are seeing an impact upon the pricing for larger projects.”
One of the more interesting outcomes of the bidding process was the bid the city received from Crossland Construction. Gould Evans hired Crossland to produce a mock bid for the project a few months ago. It provided an estimate of $16.8 million. When Crossland bid the project for real, its price was $10.7 million. Granted, the building’s design at the time Crossland provided the mock bid wasn’t exactly the same as it was at the time of the real bid, but it was pretty close. The two bids were not.
The explanation seems to be that conditions have changed rapidly in the past month or two. Or, in some cases, even in just a few hours. In his memo to city officials, Penzler said he had a conversation with one Topeka bidder who said subcontractors on the project aggressively started cutting their prices in an effort to win the job. According to Penzler, two hours before the bid was due to the city, the Topeka contractor believed his total bid for the recreation center was going to be about $16 million. Over the next hour, the bid had dropped to $14 million. And then just before the 2 p.m. bid deadline, it had dropped to just under $13 million.
Clearly, there is a lesson to be learned here: If the city had set the bid date a few hours later, contractors would have been paying the city to build the project.
Well, maybe that’s not quite the takeaway here. But it does show the power of bidding. As has already been reported, the city isn’t going through a competitive bid process on the infrastructure portion of this project. At Tuesday’s meeting, Public Works Director Chuck Soules said he is looking over the previous $8.3 million estimate for infrastructure. (It really is closer to a $9.3 million estimate when you include some site work and other items that aren’t technically called infrastructure but are part of the no-bid package.) Soules is comparing the cost estimate with bid prices the city has seen for similar work, such as the bids received for the Farmland business park project and the Iowa Street reconstruction project.
Soules said his preliminary analysis shows that it is unlikely that the infrastructure work should come in any higher than the $8.3 million estimate. But, as we reported, the city now wants to hear what developer Thomas Fritzel, who is building the infrastructure, says. They’ve asked Fritzel to provide a firm quote on the infrastructure costs within the next two weeks.
One last leftover from Tuesday’s City Commission meeting. And this one really is just a crumb. But it appears that next week’s City Commission meeting may produce a conversation about the use of drones in Lawrence airspace.
City Commissioner Terry Riordan said he had been approached by some citizens who want to discuss a city drone policy. Of course, the city doesn’t have drones. But apparently there are some people in the city who are concerned about future use of drones in Lawrence airspace, I presume by the federal government.
Commissioners indicated they weren’t going to put the topic on their regular agenda. It would seem unlikely that the city would have any influence over the federal government on the topic. But anybody is free to come and speak during the commission’s open public comment period at the end of each meeting. It sounded like some representatives of the group may do that at next week’s meeting.
You can bet I’ll keep an ear open for that.
UPDATE: I've talked this afternoon with Ben Jones, a Lawrence resident who is part of a group of about dozen or more people who have started meeting about the drone issue. He said the group will ask the city to consider an ordinance that would limit the city's use of drones — such as for police department surveillance and other such activities — until standards can be developed. He said the ordinance would be modeled after one passed in Charlottesville, Va..
The group does plan to speak at Tuesday night's City Commission meeting. Jones said the group, which crosses political lines, isn't expecting Lawrence to get into the drone business any time soon, but it thinks a resolution would be a good opportunity for the city "to get ahead of the curve."
Wicked Broadband project seeks $500,000 city grant; downtown hotel project seeks adjustment to incentives package; historical society seeks $20k for new exhibit
Reading the agenda for Tuesday night’s Lawrence City Commission meeting is kind of like reading my household’s credit card bill: There are plenty of questions, and all the answers seem to have dollar signs.
There are three outside organizations requesting financial assistance from the city, with two of them each asking for a half-million dollars.
We’ll try to fill in more details later, but here’s a look at the basics of the requests:
• Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband announced last month that it will start a pilot project to bring super fast 1-Gigabit Internet service to a neighborhood later this year.
A kick-off event for the project spelled out a lot of details about how the company, which previously did business as Lawrence Freenet, could bring the same type of high-speed Internet service to Lawrence that Google Fiber is bringing to Kansas City. At that event, the idea of financial incentives from the city wasn’t envisioned. Well, it is now.
The company has filed an application for a $500,000 economic development grant from the city, plus is asking to receive up to a $20,000 a year rebate in franchise fees it pays to the city. It also wants to have the right to enter into $10 per year leases to use a portion of new fiber optic cables that the city plans to install throughout the community in future years.
Joshua Montgomery, co-owner of Wicked Broadband, said there are several factors that have caused him to rethink the need for city incentives for the project. But perhaps the largest is that he’s been contacted by several significant New York-based capital investment companies that are interested in investing in a locally owned, high-speed Internet service. Those investors have made it clear that the city of Lawrence needs to do something to show that it is committed to the idea of bringing a high-speed network to the city.
“If the city says that it is behind it 100 percent, that opens the door for the next $30 million in private funding that will be needed to spread this service to the rest of the community,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said the $500,000, one-time grant would allow the service territory for the pilot project to grow to 1,000 households, up from 500. The neighborhood or neighborhoods haven’t been selected yet. Wicked is taking pre-registrations for the service on its website. The neighborhood with the highest percentage of residents pre-registered will serve as the pilot project. An announcement is expected June 15.
Montgomery said he and his business partner and wife, Lawrence school board member Kris Adair, are putting up $500,000 in private money for the pilot project.
City commissioners on Tuesday aren’t being asked to approve the request. Instead, Tuesday’s vote is just to direct city staff to begin analyzing it.
Wicked Broadband’s service will be a direct competitor to existing Internet providers, such as Knology and AT&T, which generally do not receive such city subsidies. So, it will be interesting to hear what those companies have to say as the process unfolds.
As for Montgomery, he said he’ll argue that the city won’t be making an investment in a private company as much as it will be making an investment in a new infrastructure system that will be critical to future commerce. “It is an economic enabler,” Montgomery said.
The second request comes from a group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton, which is seeking to build a new hotel at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire.
It is a bit more complicated to understand, and I’ll try to get a better handle on the numbers before Tuesday’s meeting. But the request seeks to raise the amount of Tax Increment Finance dollars the hotel is eligible to receive to $4 million, up from $3.5 million.
Unlike the Wicked Broadband request, this doesn’t involve the city writing a $500,000 check to the development. Instead, a TIF allows the project to get a rebate on a certain percentage of the property taxes it pays. It is kind of like a tax abatement, except the money has to be used to pay for infrastructure type of expenses. In this case, that includes a private parking garage for the hotel.
What makes it a bit complicated is that the developers also have proposed a multistory apartment/office project for the northeast corner of the intersection. It also uses Tax Increment Financing. It looks like a likely option is to increase the amount of TIF money available for the southeast corner hotel project by reducing the amount of projected TIF revenues available to the northeast corner apartment project.
If that is ultimately what happens, then the overall amount of incentive basically would be a wash. We’ll have to see how those details work out.
The more interesting part is what developers have said about the hotel project. It has had its necessary building approvals for months, but hasn’t yet started construction. A letter to the city now makes it clear that there are financial questions the investors are trying to answer.
Bill Fleming, an attorney for the development group, told the city in a letter that “the hotel investors are keenly interested in the ‘cost per key,’ which is the average cost for each hotel room.”
If the additional $500,000 in TIF money is not available to the hotel project, then that will raise the average cost per room the investors must pay.
“The investors may conclude the project is not feasible at that cost per key, and the project in that case will not proceed,” Fleming wrote.
That would be a major turn of events for the project, which faced stiff opposition from the adjacent East Lawrence neighborhood, and had to fight hard to win city approval.
Maybe the folks at the Douglas County Historical Society are more than just masters of history. Perhaps they also are masters of timing. After those two big-ticket items, they are asking for a mere $20,000 in city funding. The money will be used to help fund a permanent exhibit on the second floor of the Watkins Museum commemorating the 150th anniversary of Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence.
The new exhibit is set to open on Aug. 17, and will “explore Douglas County’s history, issues that shaped the development of the community, and events that made it a focus of national attention.”
Ultimately, the exhibit will be expanded to the third floor of the museum. The bulk of the nearly $257,000 in exhibit costs has come from private individuals, businesses and grants.
City staff members are recommending approval of the $20,000 in funding. The money would come from the city’s guest tax fund, which receives its revenue from the guest tax charged at hotel and motel rooms.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday.
Call it a rankings rut, and this one is pretty deep for the city of Lawrence.
A new national study has ranked Lawrence as the second-worst-performing small metropolitan area in the nation, based on a variety of economic measures. The Milken Institute ranked Lawrence 178 out of 179 metro areas in its most recent Best Performing Cities index. A web site for The Atlantic this week had an article analyzing the results.
This latest report adds onto the negative news released earlier this month by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis about Lawrence’s gross domestic product. It ranked 339th out of 366 metro areas, and was shrinking.
The Milken report uses some of the same types of economic numbers to create its index. But it places a particular emphasis on an area in which Lawrence is supposed to be positioned to excel: high-tech, knowledge-based jobs.
Simply put, the report found we aren’t excelling in that area. In fact, Lawrence didn’t excel in any area.
Over the course of the past year, Lawrence’s ranking in the report fell 79 spots, from No. 99 in the 2011 report to No. 178 in the most recent index. Only three other cities — Ithaca, N.Y., Great Falls, Mont., and Hot Springs, Ark. — had sharper declines than Lawrence’s.
The report takes a look at nine different categories, and Lawrence didn’t crack the top 100 in any of them. Here’s a look:
• Five-year job growth: No. 107
• One-year job growth: No. 172
• Five-year wage growth: No. 101
• One-year wage growth: No. 158
• One-year job growth percentage: No. 156
• Five-year high-tech GDP growth: No. 170
• One-year high-tech GDP growth: No. 151
• High-tech GDP as part of overall GDP: No. 164
• Concentration of high-tech companies: No. 148
I know how you all like comparisons, so I have gathered the rankings for several regional communities. I would ask for a drumroll, but the drama already has been sucked from this. Since Lawrence is second to last — last place was Carson City, Nev. — I’m guessing you’ve already deduced that every city in the region ranked ahead of us.
On a positive note, Manhattan, which has been on a roll in these type of rankings, wasn’t included in this index, likely because its population wasn’t quite large enough to qualify. But fear not, here is something for you to gnash your teeth over: Columbia, Mo., ranked No. 10 on the small cities list. Here’s a look at others:
• Iowa City, Iowa: No. 16
• St. Joseph, Mo.: No. 29
• Waco, Texas: No. 31
• Joplin, Mo.: No. 44
• Ames, Iowa: No. 61
• Topeka: No. 144
Several of the cities Lawrence often compares itself to, or at least watches, were included in the list of 200 large cities. Here’s how some of those cities fared in the rankings:
• Fort Collins, Colo.: No. 12
• Boulder, Colo.: No. 15
• Lubbock, Texas: No. 20
• Oklahoma City: No. 32
• Madison, Wis.: No. 71
• Lincoln, Neb.: No. 81
• Kansas City: No. 104
• Tulsa, Okla.: No. 118
• Springfield, Mo.: No. 144
• Wichita: No. 146
Take these rankings for whatever you think they’re worth. These indexes all have their own biases about what they think are the most important economic indicators. This one seems to be heavily focused on wages and high-tech business indicators. For what it is worth, those are two areas I hear local leaders emphasize a lot as well.
Another factor to remember is that this index — like all of them — is based on data that sometimes has some age to it. Most of the job growth numbers date back to 2011, and some of the wage numbers date back to 2010. It was no secret that Lawrence struggled during those periods. It also is worth remembering that Lawrence basically has entirely revamped its economic development team since that point.
Plus, some recent indicators have been more positive. Retail sales tax collections in 2012 had their best growth since the mid-1990s, there’s been a significant decline in Massachusetts Street vacancies, Hallmark Cards is in the process of shifting about 200 workers to its Lawrence plant, and even home sales and building permits have showed signs of a rebound.
Yes, I’m trying to put a little cheer in your Kool-Aid. But only for a moment. I’ll leave you with a finding from the report that ought to leave Lawrence leaders scratching their heads. The authors of the report noted that there were two types of communities most likely to do well in this year’s index: communities benefiting from the country’s new natural gas and oil exploration; and communities with “high concentrations of public-sector employees, especially in prominent universities.”
That second one sure sounds like us. But maybe our definition of prominent is a bit different from others. The top ranked small city, for the second year in a row, was Logan, Utah, home to Utah State University. Prominent? I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure our basketball team can beat theirs.
City estimates it may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to keep concealed weapons out of city buildings
It appears the city soon will have to buy hundreds thousands of dollars worth of security measures. Either that, or the city will have to learn to live with a new state law that would allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring firearms into City Hall and other city buildings.
City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider formally asking the Kansas Attorney General for an exemption from the new state law until Jan. 1, 2014. The state law — approved by the legislature and signed by the governor this session — essentially contains an automatic one-year exemption period for local governments. The city also may be able to get three additional one-year exemptions, although that is less certain.
The law no longer allows city or county buildings to be posted with the "no gun" signs that make it illegal for anyone, including concealed-carry permit holders, to bring a concealed weapon into the buildings. Under the new law, governments can only post those signs if the buildings have adequate security measures, such as metal detectors and security officers.
Lawrence city officials have begun calculating the cost to purchase and staff such metal detectors. A memo from City Attorney Toni Wheeler estimates it will cost about $5,000 for each metal detector, plus at least $42,000 a year for a single police officer to staff the metal detector—and the Lawrence Police Department, Wheeler wrote, believes two officers may be necessary for each detector. That would place the annual operating costs for the program at more than $84,000 for each building with a detector. And the cost may be even greater, because the personnel numbers represent starting salaries and don’t factor in benefit costs or other costs to equip a police officer.
Wheeler says at least three city buildings — City Hall, Lawrence Municipal Court and the public access area of the Police Department’s Investigations and Training Center — all warrant consideration for security systems. Beyond those three, city commissioners also would have to decide whether recreation centers and other city offices need the security measures.
New security costs for the city are expected to be addressed in the City Manager’s recommended 2014 budget, which is scheduled to be released in July. The costs could add up. If the city decided to include recreation centers in the program, there would be a total of nine buildings to equip and staff. At a minimum of $42,000 per building, that's almost $400,000 a year, plus the cost of the metal detectors. At $84,000 per building — which would be the case if two officers are required — it would be more than $750,000 a year.
But say you wanted to have security measures in place for every city-owned building that currently prohibits concealed firearms. The city currently has 47 buildings listed in its administrative policy, which means it would cost $3.9 million to provide a two-member security detail at every location. That, of course, is not going to happen. It probably would be a bit odd to have a metal detector at the city’s Landscape Shop or the Wastewater Treatment Plant, for example. Those places probably will become buildings where concealed-carry permit holders can have a weapon.
It will be interesting to see how city commissioners react to the new legislation. The previous City Commission sent a letter to the legislature objecting to the bill while it was under consideration. Whether the city’s objections rise to the level of spending more than a half-million dollars on security each year, I don’t know. The city already spends some money on security: a police officer attends each Lawrence City Commission meeting, and a bailiff is employed by the Lawrence Municipal Court.
If the city gets serious about installing metal detectors, there will be quite a few items to discuss. It probably would require the public entrances at City Hall to be changed significantly, since there are three ways for the public to enter City Hall. The city also could have a discussion about whether security officers — rather than fully sworn police officers — would be appropriate to staff the metal detectors. That may reduce the personnel cost for a security program.
And then there are city buildings such as the Lawrence Public Library and the Lawrence Arts Center that attract large crowds on a regular basis. How would they be secured and staffed?
Of course, the city always could have the discussion of whether any harm would come from allowing licensed individuals to carry a weapon in city buildings. According to the Kansas Attorney General’s office, it already is legal for concealed-carry permit holders to carry a weapon on various pieces of city property. Every city-owned park, for example, is a place where concealed-carry permit holders are entitled to have a weapon. “Parks, parking lots and other open public property" are no longer able to be restricted through signs, according to the Attorney General’s Web site. That didn’t always use to be the case, but the law was changed, I believe, during the 2010 legislative session.
City commissioners won’t be the only ones that get to have this fun. Douglas County also will have to go through the same exercise with its buildings, although it already has a metal detector for the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center. Public schools won’t have to install metal detectors under the new law. School officials can continue to post the "no gun" signs on school buildings, which will make it illegal for concealed-carry permit holders to bring a weapon into the building.
The changes keep on coming in the Lawrence Internet market.
The largest Internet service provider in Lawrence has just announced that it is removing all of its usage caps from its Internet service packages, as the company changes its name from Knology to WOW! That means customers no longer will be charged for going over their usage limits, according to a press release by the company.
Englewood, Colo.-based WOW purchased Knology back in July, but it had not converted Knology over to the WOW brand until today. Signs for the company around town are being changed today, according to WOW.
But the changes related to Internet usage caps are likely to garner more attention from hard-core Internet users. The caps had generated concern among many users because customers’ standard monthly rates could rise depending on how much Internet usage they had in a particular month.
The change in the cap policy comes at a time when both private and public officials have been talking about shaking up the city’s Internet service provider market.
A city-hired consultant recently completed a report that found that current broadband offerings in Lawrence generally are “costlier, slower and more limited than in other comparable communities.” City officials had the report commissioned because they have been interested in possibly allowing private companies to have access to a growing ring of fiber optic cable owned by the city.
On the private front, Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband — formerly known as Lawrence Freenet — has made a proposal to the city to further tap into that ring of fiber. (Ring of Fiber: Johnny Cash used to sing that song in his old age.)
At their meeting tonight, city commissioners will receive a request from Wicked for low-cost fiber leases with the city, and a one-time $500,000 grant to help the company build new broadband infrastructure in the city. The request is part of a pilot project Wicked is launching to bring to one Lawrence neighborhood the same type of superfast Internet service that Google Fiber is bringing to Kansas City. If successful, Wicked Broadband wants to extend the high-speed broadband project to all of the city.
So, we’ll see what cards the folks at WOW start playing in what appears to be an increasingly competitive game in Lawrence. Consumers, I suspect, will be keeping an eye on whether the competition starts having an impact on rates.
All we need now is John McEnroe, or absent that, somebody in white 1980s-style tennis shorts with an excitable personality.
Yes, we’re talking about the looming tennis court debate that will be coming to Lawrence City Hall. As we reported last week, city commissioners have decided to reopen the issue of whether eight tennis courts near Lawrence High School should be lighted.
At the time, however, we didn’t have a date for when the commissioners were to have a public hearing on the issue. Well, the commission now has a tentative hearing date of June 4, at its 6:35 p.m. meeting at City Hall.
There’s been one other development in the matter: The city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board brought up the issue of lighted tennis courts for the site, and it is clear recreation officials aren’t on board with the idea, largely because of concerns about cost.
In case you have forgotten, members of the Lawrence Tennis Association believe lights should be added to the courts to make up for lighted courts that were lost when LHS renovated its campus. Neighbors in the area have opposed the lighting plan, expressing concern that it will be just one more example of LHS facilities creating a neighborhood conflict. They think the light will spill onto their properties.
City officials already have agreed to build eight outdoor lighted tennis courts as part of the city’s recreation center in northwest Lawrence. Several city officials thought that put an end to the issue, but members of the tennis association said they still see value in having lighted courts in the LHS area.
But at a recent meeting, the top officials at the city’s Parks and Recreation Department said they couldn’t support the idea of lighting the LHS courts and building the eight lighted courts at the recreation center. Cost was one reason they cited. They now estimate the cost of installing lights at the courts — which are on the property of the former Centennial Elementary school — at about $240,000, if done in a way to minimize light spillage. When the project was first proposed a couple of years ago, the department was planning on spending about $100,000 to light the courts.
Plus, the city would have to enter into a maintenance agreement with the school district to help make any future repairs on the courts. Parks and Recreation officials aren’t sure they want to do that, because two of the courts already are showing signs of needing significant repair. Currently, all maintenance is the responsibility of the school district. (In case you are wondering why it wouldn’t be the school district’s responsibility to add lights to courts it owns, the answer is because the district says it doesn’t really need the lights for its high school programs. The lights mainly would accommodate city residents that use the courts.)
Members of the tennis association are passionate about the issue and well-organized. They also note that the needs in the area are changing because KU will be losing most of its public courts on campus when the new School of Business building is constructed.
So, we’ll see how the debate goes. Let the volleying begin.
It didn’t take long for the tales of tragedy in Moore, Okla., to cause at least one city leader to begin asking questions of whether Lawrence is adequately prepared for a similar natural disaster.
City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer raised questions at last night’s City Commission meeting about whether Lawrence’s building codes for public buildings, like schools, are adequate when it comes to providing shelter from tornadoes.
“I think it would behoove us to look at ways to make our school buildings safer,” Farmer said. “If we don’t, shame on us.”
Farmer's comments Tuesday night came after he first broached the subject on his Facebook page earlier in the day. From his page: “I understand that natural disasters happen. I understand that we have better things in place to enhance warnings. But if we parade children into a hallway and tell them to cover their necks with their hands, and an EF-5 comes rolling through town, it won't matter. It’s time we stop making excuses for lives being taken because we were too irresponsible to think outside of a box, or too cheap to make sure this NEVER happens again.
“Reinforced tunnels, underground schools. Something. Smarter people than me are thinking about this. We have to figure something out. Innocent lives being taken because we didn't act when we possessed the innovation to stop it is unacceptable to me.”
Commissioners asked Planning Director Scott McCullough to produce a report summarizing what Lawrence’s building codes require in the way of storm shelters in public buildings and whether there are feasible additions that could be made to the code.
I would look for that report in the next few weeks.
As for what is really possible, I don’t know. Lawrence Public Schools spokeswoman Julie Boyle told me Lawrence public schools don’t have FEMA designated safe rooms, but obviously they do have plans to locate students and staff to interior portions of the buildings, which are better designed to withstand severe weather.
We’ll see how much, if any, serious discussion the idea of stricter building standards gets at City Hall.
Tuesday’s discussion arose after Mayor Mike Dever asked whether the city was planning to send any personnel to the Oklahoma City area to assist with the devastation following this week’s tornado.
City Manager David Corliss said the city hadn’t yet been asked for any assistance, but he plans to spread an offer of assistance to public administration officials he knows in the Oklahoma City area.
“I certainly will make it clear that we are available to do that,” Corliss said.
Let the number games begin. As we’ve previously reported, the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission is set to debate a proposal by Menards to locate a new store adjacent to Home Depot near 31st and Iowa streets.
As we’ve also reported, one of the factors that planners are supposed to take into consideration when considering such large retail projects is the city’s retail vacancy rate.
But at the time Menards filed its plans with City Hall, the last time the city had conducted a retail vacancy rate study was in 2010.
Well, there are now new numbers. The city recently has completed its most recent Retail Market Report, which looks at vacancy rates as they were in December 2012. Here’s a look at some of the findings:
• Citywide, the retail vacancy rate was 7.2 percent, down from the 7.3 percent found in the city’s 2010 report and up from the 6.9 percent found in the 2006 report. In other words, there hasn’t been much change in the overall number.
• Downtown had a vacancy rate of 9.4 percent, up from 9.1 percent in 2010; South Iowa had a vacancy rate of 7.8 percent, up from 2.7 percent; East 23rd had a vacancy rate of 10.4 percent, down from 13.6 percent; West 23rd Street had a vacancy rate of 6.1 percent, down from 6.7 percent.
• The 19th and Haskell area had the highest vacancy rate in the city at 30.2 percent. North Lawrence was second at 16.4 percent, although the numbers indicate a turnaround is happening in the area. In 2010, it had a vacancy rate of 27.5 percent.
• Turnarounds happened in a couple of other areas too. The Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa area has a vacancy rate of 7.8 percent, down from 26.4 percent in 2010.
• The report also provides information about the type of retail uses in downtown. The report found 116 merchant-based retail businesses in downtown, which is down from 126 in 2006. Restaurant and beverage oriented uses grew to 83, up from 68 establishments, during the same time period.
The report is an interesting one for people who watch Lawrence’s commercial real estate market. Perhaps the most interesting part about it, though, is how different it is from a private report that was put together during roughly the same time period.
The Lawrence office of Colliers International released a report in January that measured vacancy rates for late 2012. It found an overall retail vacancy rate of 5.4 percent, compared to 7.2 percent in the city’s report.
In downtown, Colliers found a vacancy rate of 4.4 percent compared to 9.4 percent in the city report.
The differences, I believe, come down to the methodology of the two reports. I don’t know all the differences but I think a lot of it comes from how the two studies define retail space. For example, the city study counts some industrially zoned space as potential retail space because the city’s development code would allow for retail to be located in the space. Also, there are places like the former Riverfront Mall building. Whether that space is counted as retail space, which is what it was built for, or office space, which is how it is pretty much being marketed now, makes a difference in the vacancy rate calculations.
Vacancy rates: They’re like my kids saying they’ve “cleaned” their rooms. It is a subject where interpretations and definitions matter.
As far as the Menards project goes, we’ll see how much weight planners, and ultimately city commissioners, give to the vacancy rate subject.
The city’s comprehensive plan, Horizon 2020, says large retail projects shouldn’t be approved, if there is evidence the project will push the city’s overall retail vacancy rate above 8 percent.
If the 190,000 square foot Menards store and the 65,000 square feet of outlying parcels — restaurants and other smaller retailers surrounding the store — were built and then were entirely vacant, the city’s vacancy rate would rise to 9.7 percent. It would be odd, however, for Menards to build a store and then not occupy it, but technically that is the assumption city planners are supposed to make under the rules of Horizon 2020.
Several planning commissioners the last time they considered this issue, however, indicated concern with making that type of assumption. The city also is in the process of rewriting that portion of Horizon 2020, but those changes haven’t yet been made. So, it is possible that planners may discard the idea that they should assume the new Menards building will be vacant after it is built.
Staff members put together another calculation that shows what would happen if the Menards building is occupied but all of the 65,000 square feet of surrounding retail is vacant. The result would be the citywide vacancy rate would rise to 7.7 percent, which is still below the 8 percent threshold that Horizon 2020 says is critical.
So, we’ll see what comes of all this. I’m not sure how much this retail market study is going to play into the Menards decision, but this report likely will play into future debates about whether Lawrence has too much or too little retail space for a community its size.
The Menards discussion will take place at 6:30 tonight at City Hall.