There’s a trade in the works that sounds mighty familiar from my youth: Trading books for bats and balls.
I have received confirmation that University Book Shop, 1116 W. 23rd St., is on the way out, and Jock’s Nitch sporting goods is on the way in.
Scott Ozier, a store manager for Jock’s Nitch, told me the company will be vacating its space at 916 Massachusetts St. in order to offer a more full-line sporting goods store in the much larger space on 23rd Street.
“This will allow us to carry a lot more sporting goods,” said Ryan Boler, another manager at the company, which has eight stores in eastern and central Kansas and another five in Missouri and Oklahoma. “There is a need for it in Lawrence. There are not a lot of options in Lawrence right now, and we think the location on 23rd Street will make it easier for people to get to.”
The Jock’s Nitch store at 837 Massachusetts St. will remain open. That store serves as the company’s KU fan shop store, focusing on apparel and other team merchandise rather than sporting goods.
The new store on 23rd Street will be more than twice as large as the company’s store on Massachusetts Street.
Ozier said the new store can handle a larger line of products in all categories, but he said the soccer section is expected to expand significantly, and more football gear is expected during season as well. In addition, the company will start running a team center out of the store, selling custom apparel to youth and high school teams.
Ozier said he hopes the store can be open by April 1. The company’s store at 916 Massachusetts has been closed all week, but reopened today to begin a moving liquidation sale. The store is marking down items 25 percent to 75 percent in an effort to reduce the amount of merchandise that the company will have to move. Ozier said the store will be open through the holidays, but likely would close in early 2013, and then reopen a few months later on 23rd Street.
No word yet on when the last day for the University Book Shop will be. It does not come as a surprise that UBS is leaving the location. We reported earlier this year that the building was on the market. Plus, the owners of UBS also own Jayhawk Bookstore, which has a prime textbook selling location right on the edge of the KU campus.
• I know talk of a sporting goods store will cause people to wonder about whether one of the big box retailers, like a Dick’s Sporting Goods Store, is eyeing Lawrence.
That rumor certainly has been around for awhile, but so far it has remained just that — a rumor. The former Sears building at 27th and Iowa has been a rumor hub for such developments. Dick’s has been mentioned as a possible tenant for that location, but my understanding is that the long-term future of the Sears building is uncertain because Sears’ parent company and the Los Angeles real estate company that owns the building haven’t yet agreed how to dispose of the remaining time left on the building’s lease.
The latest rumor I’ve heard — and I haven’t yet confirmed it — is that a local car dealership plans to move into a portion of the building while it does major work on one of its dealership buildings. I’ll check on that and see if there is any truth there.
As for big box stores, though, I’m pretty certain Lawrence is getting some serious looks from a few. I don’t know all the names yet, but Menards sure seems to be mentioned a lot these days. We had reported there may be some interest in converting the former Gaslight Mobile Home Village into retail space, now that a deal for an apartment complex has fallen through at that location. But I’m pretty certain there are other locations Menards and other big box stores are looking at.
Certainly, there is the retail area the Schawda’s are trying to develop at Sixth and the South Lawrence Trafficway, which they hope will get a boost from the proposed KU/city sports park. But I’m going to be keeping a close eye on the South Iowa Street corridor. I think there is a lot of momentum building in the southern Lawrence area.
Do you think it is coincidence that it is building about the same time folks think the South Lawrence Trafficway will be completed?
I’ll let you know when I hear more solid details.
If you are a follower of the political process in Lawrence, tonight might end up being an interesting evening.
It sounds like a shake-up is in the works at the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods. The group has its meeting where it elects its officers at 7 tonight in the ground floor meeting room of the Hobbs Taylor Lofts Building at Eighth and New Hampshire streets.
It looks likely that longtime LAN chair Gwen Klingenberg is facing a major challenge to keep her leadership position with the organization. Sources tell me a strong push is being made to install Laura Routh, a longtime City Hall observer and frequent critic of the police department, to the top spot.
In fact, the effort may be so strong that Klingenberg may not even seek another term. One source told me that she essentially had resigned her seat leading up to tonight’s vote, but I haven’t been able to confirm that with Klingenberg.
Routh, however, did confirm to me that she is seeking the position.
Some of you may be wondering why you care at this point. That’s understandable. LAN doesn’t always garner a lot of attention, but it has been one of the major political players at Lawrence City Hall in the past. As the largest neighborhood organization in the city, it has an ability to muster forces for or against any number of projects.
Within the last decade LAN has held considerable sway with the commission at various times. How much sway it holds today is debatable, and that may be what this change in leadership is partially about.
A member who called me up about this potential change, said there is a split in the organization currently. One group, it appears, is seeking more aggressive advocacy from LAN, while another group is concerned that if such aggressiveness is perceived as being confrontational with City Hall that it will make it more difficult for LAN to get things done.
Routh stopped short of saying that her platform as president would involve amping up the aggressiveness of the organization. But anyone who has watched City Hall much recognizes that Routh is not hesitant to challenge commissioners and call them out on issues.
“I’m a pretty known quantity,” Routh told me. “I’m a pretty direct person. I think people know that about me. But my intention is to serve as the membership desires."
LAN runs a pretty open ship. Its meetings are open to anyone interested in Lawrence neighborhoods, but only members of the organization can vote.
Watch out Tiger Woods. It looks like I may soon start getting paid to golf, too.
Plans have been filed at Lawrence City Hall to revive a unique apartment proposal that would include building a new nine-hole golf course in northwest Lawrence. (More on how that benefits my pocketbook in a moment.)
In fact, the plans have expanded since they first were filed back in late 2007.
Fayetteville, Ark.-based Lindsey Management has filed a proposal to build a 630-unit apartment complex that will front a new privately owned nine hole golf course at 251 Queens Road.
If you are having a hard time picturing that location, it is just a bit east of another little project that has been in the news — the proposed Kansas University/city of Lawrence sports park and recreation center.
The project would be on about 81 acres on the north side of Sixth Street, basically stretching from Queens Road toward George Williams Way. The project would run behind, or north of, the recently constructed Hunter’s Ridge Apartment Complex and St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church.
The company bought the land several years ago after it filed its original plan in 2007. But back then, the project was slated to be a 480-unit apartment complex.
The development, though, will still have room for a nine-hole golf course, and that is what really makes this apartment proposal unique. Lindsey operates apartment complexes across the Midwest and the southern U.S. that are connected to golf courses. According to the company’s Web site, in some communities residents' monthly rent provides them unlimited access to the golf course. In other communities, residents of the apartment complex get highly discounted green fees.
I’ve got a call into Lindsey officials for more details about their Lawrence plans, but haven’t yet heard back.
Some of you may be familiar with the company’s golf course and apartment projects. The company operates the Derby Golf & Country Club and the apartments around it, and also the Shawnee Golf & Country Club and those apartments.
The company also operates golf/apartment complexes in Columbia, Mo., and Springfield, Mo., in addition to projects in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.
As for the Lawrence golf course, the plans filed at City Hall indicate it will be more than your typical, short executive golf course but probably will play a little shorter than, say, Eagle Bend.
I suspect all of this is subject to change, but here’s what I garnered about the course from the plans on file at City Hall: Hole No. 1, 333 yards; No. 2, 254 yards, plays partially over about a half-acre lake; No. 3, 100 yards; No. 4, 250 yards, plays over a portion of what looks to be an approximately 3-acre lake; No. 5, 487 yards, plays over a portion of the same lake; No. 6, 112 yards, plays through a narrow alley of trees; No. 7, 487 yards; No. 8, 123 yards; and No. 9, 333 yards.
In addition, the project will include a two-story clubhouse and a large natural area. The plans show 13 acres in the center of the property will be designated as a “tree preservation area.”
Based on the company’s Web site, it looks like in other communities the golf courses do sell some limited memberships to folks who don’t live at the apartment complex. Opening the course to public play was part of the plans in 2007. Either way, it will be new competition for the city’s existing five golf courses — two at Alvamar, Lawrence Country Club, the executive Orchards Course and the city-owned Eagle Bend.
It will be interesting to hear what has caused Lindsey officials to restart the project that was previously put on hold due to economic conditions. Just a month ago, developers of another large apartment complex proposed for the Gaslight Village Mobile Home Park in south Lawrence, pulled the plug. They said they didn’t see the demand in Lawrence, although that project was exclusively targeted to students.
This project may be more of a mix of students and retirees. From the plans, about two-thirds of the apartments will be one-bedroom units while the remainder will be two-bedroom units.
Perhaps the recreation center and sports park is spurring some new interest, or it might be the company has been encouraged by the other development happening nearby.
As I mentioned, this project will be next door to the recently completed Hunter’s Ridge Apartment Complex, which has about 500 living units. In addition, we’ve reported on two apartment projects that are either under way or have filed plans for the area north of Sixth and Wakarusa. Plus, plans have been filed for a new residential development near the southeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. In addition to about 30 single-family homes, it includes about 50 duplexes and 85 new apartments.
So the Sixth Street corridor is showing signs of growth. But, at the moment, apartments rather than single-family homes are dominating the action.
As for how this latest golf project will help my pocketbook, that’s easy. With all those apartments so close to a golf course, it seems a given that my friends at Kennedy Glass or some other window repair shop will pay to send me and my buddy out on the course, armed with our reliable hook and slice.
I’ll be playing through from your living room in no time.
Almost anybody who follows the Lawrence business scene can tell you that local entrepreneur Doug Compton has a growing enterprise.
That never will be more evident than next year when groups led by Compton begin work on a pair of multistory buildings at Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
But what may not be as evident to the general public is that Compton also has a growing banking enterprise. A new deal has recently put that on display.
De Soto-based Great American Bank on Nov. 30 finalized its purchase of Lone Summit Bank of Lake Lotawana, Mo., which now will become a branch of Great American Bank. That’s significant in Lawrence because Great American Bank is owned by First Financial Bancshares Inc., a Lawrence-based bank holding company that is led by Compton.
First Financial Bancshares also is the holding company that owns Lawrence Bank and its two locations in the city. But it has been Great American Bank that really has been the aggressively expanding enterprise at First Financial. In 2009, Great American Bank purchased First Bank of Kansas City at 39th and Main from the FDIC.
Travis Hicks, Great American’s president and CEO, said in a statement that the bank’s growth strategy is likely to continue as the “bank will continue to look for opportunities to expand throughout the market.”
Also expect some activity from Lawrence Bank in the near future. The company will be getting a brand new facility as part of Compton’s plans to build a multistory apartment and office building at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire. Lawrence Bank currently has offices in the former Black Hills Energy building that is on the site and will be demolished as part of the project. Plans for the new building show a bank and drive-thru lane occupying a good part of the first floor of the new building.
According to a September filing with the FDIC, First Financial Bancshares had about $128.2 million in assets. With this latest deal, the total is expected to grow to about $155 million in assets.
According to records with the FDIC, the company has grown its assets by about 30 percent since late 2008. The latest FDIC report shows the bank holding company had net operating income of about $1.3 million, up from about $565,000 in 2008.
Compton, according to the most recent annual report from the Kansas Secretary of State’s office, serves as president of the bank holding company. Other directors of the company include Lawrence residents Jeff Hatfield, Les Dreiling and Hicks.
Milton’s may not be coming back to downtown Lawrence, but a full-fledged breakfast restaurant is slated for its spot at 920 Massachusetts St.
And it will have a strong Milton’s connection.
Manda Jolly, a former general manager for Milton’s, has inked a deal to open The Roost in early 2013.
Jolly said the restaurant and its menu won’t be a replica of Milton’s — which closed last month — but it will be a place to get a traditional breakfast, and some of the menu items will be very recognizable to fans of Milton’s.
“I understand that there were things that people grew to love and need from there,” said Jolly.
(I’m working to get her to write my doctor a note to prove to him that I indeed do need sausage gravy.)
Jolly said The Roost will focus on breakfast, lunch, pastries and something she calls “inspired cocktails.” (That sounds a bit redundant to me. Almost every cocktail I’ve had has inspired me to have another.)
Jolly is opening the restaurant with three other partners — she is not yet releasing those names — but she said one of the partners has opened and managed several bars in Lawrence. She said The Roost will be more committed to having cocktails and spirits be a part of the restaurant than Milton’s was, which had a liquor license on and off during its existence. But at the moment, Jolly said the restaurant won’t have regular evening hours. (Don’t fret, I’ve heard cocktails at lunch can be very inspiring and darn right transformational at breakfast.) Instead, The Roost will be available for rent for evening events, and Jolly said the restaurant also will host a few special evenings per year.
The former Milton’s space will get a major makeover to accommodate The Roost. Jolly said the name for the restaurant comes from her family’s farm just outside of Speed, Kan., which is near Phillipsburg, which is near Stockton, which is near . . . (In Western Kansas, we could play this game all day, but it always ends the same. It is east of Denver.) The family farm’s name is The Roost, and Jolly said the restaurant space is going to take on a little bit more of that type of feel with some old barn wood incorporated into the design and more natural elements such as exposing some stone walls.
When all of it comes together, is still a bit uncertain. Jolly at this point is only committing to “early 2013” as an opening date.
“I don’t want to give up on January yet, but it won’t be early January,” Jolly said.
Jolly started at Milton’s as a hostess on the day the restaurant opened in 1997. Jolly worked there pretty much for the next 11 years, rising to the rank of general manager. When she left the restaurant four years ago, she tried to buy Milton’s then, but the deal never quite happened. The idea, though, never did fully leave her.
“I love mornings,” Jolly said. “I’m used to that. Milton’s served as a major hub of the community for a long time. It always has been the best job I ever had.”
Well, it looks like dreams of Lawrence perhaps having the most picturesque Planning and Development Services offices in the country have been dashed.
There had been quite a bit of speculation in certain real estate circles that the city of Lawrence was close to buying the Abe & Jake’s Landing building that is immediately east of City Hall.
The city was interested in the building as a home for a combined office for its Planning and Development Services Department. Currently, the building permit and code enforcement portion of that department is in the former Riverfront Mall, while the planning portion of the department is in City Hall. The city has long wanted a combined office so it can have a “one-stop shop” for builders and developers doing business with the city.
And what a stop that would have been. If you have forgotten, the Abe & Jake’s building is one of the more unique in the city. The old 19th Century industry building sits along the south bank of the Kansas River and has huge windows overlooking the Kaw.
But it appears the deal is not to be. Mayor Bob Schumm confirmed to me that the city had been working for about four months on a potential purchase. But after architects brought back estimates on what it would cost to renovate the 24,000-square-foot building — which has about 50-foot-high ceilings in most places — the city recently backed away from the deal.
Schumm said he doesn’t see much chance the city will pursue the building in the future, and he said the city currently is not looking at any other locations for a joint Planning and Development Services office.
The deal would have come with an interesting twist: The city would have been buying a building it already owns. The building and property came under the ownership of the city when it purchased land in the area for City Hall. But the city in the 1990s granted Lawrence businessman Mike Elwell a low-cost, long-term lease on the building, in exchange for him making about $2 million worth of improvements to what had become an eyesore of a building.
Elwell’s lease on the building runs into 2087. The city really would have been purchasing that lease.
Elwell has made no secret that he wants to sell his rights to the building. We reported in January 2011 that the building — which basically has been an event venue and nightclub since Elwell finished the building in 2002 — was on the market for $1.3 million.
At the time, Elwell said he was receiving some interest from hotels and others who wanted to use the building as a small-scale convention center and events venue. But he said the slow economy was holding back those sort of deals. It will be interesting to see what eventually lands at Abe & Jake’s.
The fact the city was contemplating a deal for the property also brings up an interesting point. According to my sources, the city believed it could purchase and perhaps renovate the building without having to raise any taxes.
If so, this is just another reminder of how unique of a financial position the city is in. It has access to cheap money through the bond market that is lending money at historically low rates, and the city’s bond and interest fund has very sizable reserves at the moment.
Let’s do a little back-of-the-napkin math on all the projects the city has or plans to do without raising taxes: $25 million for a recreation center; about $7 million in infrastructure for the future business park at the former Farmland Industries site; let’s estimate $3 million for the Planning and Development Services offices; and then there is the approximately $300,000 per year the city says it has to cover the expected operational shortfall of the proposed recreation center. That $300,000 per year probably could finance about a $4 million bond.
That’s just off the top of my head, and the amount comes to $39 million the city can put toward a project or projects without having to raise taxes. I wonder how many folks realize how unique of a time period Lawrence city government finds itself in these days.
More on that another day.
City Hall on a Tuesday night is sometimes a good place to see an odd sight.
That may be the case tonight. When Lawrence city commissioners meet for their regular weekly meeting, Mayor Bob Schumm is scheduled to be wearing odd attire.
Schumm will be decked out in team gear from West Virginia University. The folks at city hall in Morgantown, W.Va. — home of West Virginia University — proposed a wager with Schumm. If KU won last Saturday’s football game between the two universities, Morgantown mayor would wear KU gear to his council meeting. If West Virginia won the game, Schumm would wear Mountaineer gear.
The folks at Morgantown offered a similar wager to all the other Big 12 communities. I suspect it was just their way of saying hello to their new conference neighbors and perhaps generating a little interest among conference residents about Morgantown. On that note, I wonder how many KU fans made the trip to Morgantown last weekend, and what they thought of the place. If you went, let me know your thoughts below.
In case you missed it, KU fell just a bit short on Saturday, losing 59-10. Schumm told me he has a yellow West Virginia shirt that he’ll be sporting at the meeting.
“I told them I would wear it, but I never said for how long,” Schumm said.
Schumm ought to just take his lumps and feel lucky. I’m surprised that blowout loss didn’t trigger some clause in the wager that required Schumm to wear the entire Mountaineer mascot uniform.
Though that may not have been all bad. I think the Mountaineer mascot comes with a musket and moonshine. (West Virginia officials may dispute the moonshine part of this, but anybody who has seen their atmosphere at a football game would confirm moonshine has to be involved.) I don’t know how much the musket would add, but I’m pretty sure the moonshine would improve most City Commission meetings.
This one is a lot like me staring at a weight bar with about 200 pounds on it: There are more questions than answers.
But I’ve been getting several calls from members of the Lawrence Athletic Club about what the future holds at that facility.
As we reported in March, Wichita-based Meritrust Credit Union filed a lawsuit in Douglas County District Court seeking ownership of the Lawrence Athletic Club, 3201 Mesa Way, after it alleged LAC owner Rick Sells and his corporation Junkyard’s Jym defaulted on a $2.4 million note.
According to Douglas County property records, Meritrust indeed owns the real estate of the athletic club. That is as expected. The court records indicated Sells did not contest the credit union taking over ownership of the facility. The ownership issue, though, was clouded because another group — The Caspian Group, which is led by longtime Lawrence landlord George Paley — won a nearly $400,000 judgment against Junkyard’s Jym in Douglas County District Court last year, which stemmed from a lease dispute at another location. Sources tell me, though, that a settlement was reached that resolved any claim The Caspian Group may have had against the LAC property.
Even though Meritrust took over ownership of the facility, it never had an intention of running it. What several sources said happened is that Meritrust worked out an agreement with Sells to continue operating the club that he founded nearly 30 years ago.
But now there are questions about whether that relationship will continue. I’ve heard from upwards of a dozen folks now that talk around the club is that either an ownership change or at least a change in the operations of the club is imminent.
Then, there is one other sign that is a bit curious. It is an actual sign. Meritrust has put up a sign next to the club’s entrance advertising the credit union. The sign doesn’t say anything about pending changes, so maybe Meritrust is just seeking to advertise itself to club members. But the sign wasn’t there a few days ago. It popped up shortly after speculation started spreading across town that something was up at LAC.
I’ve put in multiple calls to Sells and stopped by the club to see him over the past several days, but have had no luck in getting a comment from him. An employee at the club declined to comment. An attorney for Meritrust also did not return a phone call seeking comment. A manager with the local Genesis Health Club also didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. I called Genesis because there has been speculation that the large Wichita-based health club chain is set to take over operations of LAC. But that very easily could be false speculation. Genesis’ name frequently comes up anytime there is speculation about a health club in the region.
Certainly speculation is a stock I trade in here at Town Talk. Normally, though, I don’t print speculation regarding businesses that may be faltering. I don’t feel it is fair to report unconfirmed information that could negatively impact the livelihood of a business’ owners and employees.
But I have given the operator of the business ample opportunity to simply say there is nothing to this, and I’ve given the owner of the property opportunity to respond as well. And, importantly, I think the nature of a health club business makes it a bit more imperative that consumers be informed of any potential changes. So often health clubs operate on multi-month memberships that are many times pre-paid.
Unfortunately, I’ve covered several health club closings or ownership changes over the years, and the issue of what happens to a person’s membership to a club often ends up being a sticky one.
Anyway, take all of this for whatever you think it is worth. As I mentioned, there are more questions than answers.
Now, back to this heavy weight bar. Here’s my No. 1 question: Why did I ever believe my wife would help lift this thing off me?
There hasn’t been much news lately about whether the city has a new plan to buy the Santa Fe Depot in East Lawrence, but there is news about the Lawrence woman who has been leading that charge.
Carey Maynard-Moody recently received Amtrak’s Champion of the Rails Award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The Champion of the Rails Award is one of the top awards Amtrak gives to citizens who support the idea of rail travel.
Maynard-Moody won the award for her role in founding Depot Redux, a Lawrence citizens group that does everything from providing basic cleaning of the depot to lobbying for the 1950s-era building to be preserved and restored.
The depot certainly has gotten more attention from Amtrak since Maynard-Moody and her group has come on the scene. Recently, Amtrak spent $1.7 million to install a new ADA-compliant platform at the Lawrence station.
“Of my 40 stations, about 20 of them needed platforms,” said John Bueschel, Amtrak’s district manager of stations. “Lawrence would have never had this platform or the new lighting, if it were not for Carey putting the station on the map.”
Passenger numbers at the station have been growing as the station has gotten more attention. In 2007, 3,732 passengers got on or off the train in Lawrence, which stops twice daily at the station. At the end of 2011, the number had grown to 6,608.
City officials also have been taking more notice of the station. Several city commissioners have expressed support for renovating the station — if they can find a low-cost way to do so. Taking ownership of the station wouldn’t be difficult. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway owns the station, and has indicated a willingness to sell the building — but not the land it sits upon — for a nominal fee of a dollar or so.
But city officials have expressed concern that once it takes ownership of the building, there will be several repairs that the city won’t be able to avoid. In total, those repairs could run several hundred thousand dollars, and commissioners have been reluctant to own the building without knowing where that money would come from.
Earlier this year, officials with the city’s transit system said the station — which is at Seventh and New Jersey streets — might make a good central station for the city’s bus service. But in July, transit officials recommended against the idea because they said further study revealed the site wasn’t really large enough to accommodate the number of buses that would be the station. Several neighbors also had objected to the plan.
At that point, even some of the stronger supporters on the City Commission said they they’re not sure how the city can justify taking over the building, unless some sort of secondary use is found for it.
“Right now it is used only as a train depot a couple of times during the night,” City Commissioner Aron Cromwell said in July. “The rest of the time it is empty. That is not enough use for us to justify purchasing and maintaining the building.”
At that time, city commissioners basically were hoping somebody from the public would come up with another feasible use for the building, because they didn’t have any off the top of their heads.
That was in July, and waiting for another use to emerge still seems to be where the project is at.
Some restaurants hang dollar bills from their walls, while others hang windows from their ceilings.
What? You haven’t heard of that? It is the thing at downtown Lawrence’s newest restaurant, Loopy’s, which is on the ground floor of the 901 Building at Ninth and New Hampshire.
If you remember, we reported back in September that a trio of restaurant and marketing executives had teamed up to sign a deal to locate a new restaurant/wine bar in a corner of the multi-story apartment and office building.
Well, the business is having its soft opening today and expects to roll out its full menu and bar later this week. But what it already has in great supply are windows. There are dozens and dozens of windows suspended from the ceiling and hanging from the walls of the restaurant.
Billy Pilgrim, a Lawrence marketing executive and one of the co-owners of the business, said the design fits in well with the restaurant’s goal of becoming a Lawrence original. “I don’t think there is anything quite like it in Lawrence,” Pilgrim said.
For one thing, it may be the only restaurant in town that has about a hundred people living directly above it. Pilgrim thinks a restaurant that intersects with where people live is going to have a bit of a different feel than an ordinary restaurant and bar.
As for the food, that’s being handled by the other two partners in the business: David Lewis, the founder of the recently closed Milton’s restaurant; and longtime Lawrence chef Sula Teller, who also happens to be married to Pilgrim.
The menu has breakfast — which will be served from 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. — lunch/dinner, and late-night options.
On the breakfast side, you’ll be able to get everything from “daily porridge” — no word on whether you have to share a table with a bear — to lots of take-out items like granola, breads and pastries to slightly more complex items like a frittata or apple frangipani, which are stuffed apples with roasted nuts, toast and butter. The place also will offer a full-line of coffees, including espressos and lattes.
Lunch and dinner items include a large dose of flatbreads and pizzas. The menu includes about a dozen pizza items, including classics such as sausage and pepperoni to ones such as sweet potato and speck ham. The menu also includes salads and soups.
The happy hour and late-night menu will include the pizzas, but also will have a variety of fruit and cheese trays, gourmet olives, and plates of smoked salmon and trout. Of course the hour wouldn’t be all that happy unless some adult beverages also were offered. The restaurant will have a well-stocked wine cellar, and the menu I’ve seen lists about 35 craft beers coming from as close as Free State Brewery to as far away as places such as California, Colorado, Canada and Belgium.
As I mentioned, the restaurant is rolling out its offerings in phases. Pilgrim told me many of the menu items are available today, but the full-line of offerings won’t be available until later this week.
The idea of a destination-style resort at Clinton Lake — an old proposal that resurfaced late last year — is becoming more serious.
Officials with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism are seeking proposals, due next month, to develop a 175-room hotel with a conference center and various restaurant and recreational facilities somewhere inside Clinton Lake State Park.
Robin Jennison, the state’s wildlife and parks secretary, confirmed to the Journal-World last September that he was seriously studying the idea of a significant resort development for Clinton Lake, which is just west of the Lawrence city limits.
According to new state documents, Jennison is negotiating a 50-year lease with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the lake and owns the property around it.
The resort would be run by a private development company, but through a contract with the State of Kansas. Private money would be used to fund the construction of the resort.
HVS Consulting and Valuation Services, a national hotel industry consulting firm, has prepared a feasibility study that suggests a number of amenities that would be needed to make Clinton Lake a regional destination. They include:
• a 175-room hotel
• a conference center, including a 6,500-square-foot ballroom and about 9,000 square feet of additional meeting room space
• three restaurants, including a full-service restaurant, a lakeside bar and grill with courtyard, and a poolside bar and grill
• a spa
• an outdoor pool
• an indoor/outdoor pool
• a water sports center, which would include equipment for kayaking, sailing, wakeboards, jet skiing and water skiing
• an outdoor sports center, which would include hiking guides, bike rentals, and sports court. Guests also would be expected to have access to the city-owned Eagle Bend Golf Course, which is below the Clinton Lake Dam.
Of course, all of this still is in the concept stage, and there is one big detail that is still very much unknown: The specific site for the development. The request for proposals asks developers to specify where they would like the resort to be located within the state park.
The development group also would have to make the necessary arrangements with the city of Lawrence to extend water and sewer service to the site. Currently, the state park is not connected to the city’s water and sewer service.
I haven’t had a chance to talk with Secretary Jennison today, but will try to do so. When I chatted with him in September, however, it was clear he was very excited about the prospects and had taken a personal interest in trying to get the idea moving ahead.
“I can tell you that is an idea that is very important to me,” Jennison said. ““With K-10 (the South Lawrence Trafficway) on track to be completed, that really adds to the potential of Clinton. Clinton is one of our great lakes. It may have one of the nicest marinas in the state, it has a stable water source, and it is close to a vibrant community. It has a lot going for it that would be attractive for a resort.”
There has been at least one other previous serious discussion of a resort at Clinton. That was back in 2001, but negotiations with the Corps of Engineers to allow a resort at the lake were difficult.
We’ll see how things progress this time. The hotel market already has been an active one in Lawrence. This project could be a game-changer for that industry.
Proposals are due into the state by July 17.
Buses, builders and bulldozers, oh my.
It is not the latest elaborate act for Lawrence’s Busker Fest. Instead, it may be the newest solution to finding a location to temporarily house downtown Lawrence’s public transit hub.
Commissioners at their meeting tonight will consider a new option for the transfer point: the 700 block of Vermont Street. For those of you who have forgotten your downtown geography, that’s where construction crews are building a $19 million expansion to the Lawrence Public Library.
The latest bus proposal calls for using the east side of the 700 block of Vermont Street for bus parking, and loading and unloading. That is the opposite side of where the construction work for the library is happening. (We’re basically talking about in front of the AT&T building and the vacant Local Burger building.) City transit officials have evaluated the site and haven’t come out against it, but they expressed several concerns. Transit staff believes there is a “high potential” for service disruptions or delays due to the library construction under way across the street. Construction vehicles often use the center lane of Vermont Street to make deliveries to the site. Transit officials also note the large number of buses that will be turning onto westbound Seventh Street may create problems for motorists trying to back out of the parking spaces in front of the post office.
But the new location was suggested by City Commissioner Mike Amyx, who is trying to find a location that doesn’t upset the parking balance downtown. City commissioners late last year agreed to move the transit hub to the 800 block of Vermont Street, but as the time came closer for the move, several merchants objected to the 13 long-term parking spaces that would be lost from the 800 block of Vermont. This new proposal for the 700 block of Vermont Street also will eliminate parking spaces. Transit staff estimates 12 to 16 spaces will need to be removed from the street. But I guess the thinking is the loss of parking in that area will be less objectionable because the new multi-level parking garage next to the library is expected to open this fall. We’ll see whether that theory holds. Thus far complaints about loss of parking haven’t emerged with this proposal, but that may be just because many folks in the area don’t know about it yet. (The proposal showed up on the city’s agenda late yesterday.)
Staff members have countered the new proposal with additional ideas on how they could mitigate parking problems in the 800 block of Vermont. They think they can place six five-hour parking meters on the north side of the 100 block of W. Ninth Street to partially offset the loss of the 13 meters in the 800 block of Vermont. In addition there are eight existing short-term spaces in the 200 block of W. Ninth Street that could be made into five-hour metered spaces. Staff members also believe about 20 two-hour spaces in the public parking lot near Ninth and Vermont could be signed so that people with 10-hour parking permits could use the spaces.
With all those changes, the number of long-term parking spaces near the 800 block of Vermont would nearly double. Merchants have said the need for the long-term spaces is critical because the area is used by downtown employees.
In case you have forgotten what started all this, the city is seeking a temporary home for its transit hub because its current location will become unworkable once construction begins on a new hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. Word around town is that work on the hotel is expected to begin by the end of the month. City officials already have commissioned a consultant to help find a permanent home for the transit hub. It is likely that hub will be outside of downtown, but it may take a year or more to make the necessary improvements and route changes to accommodate a new transit hub. City commissioners later this month are expected to receive information from the consultant.
As for tonight, it is hard to say where the transit hub may land. Staff members thought the issue was settled months ago when they first presented the 800 Vermont proposal.
But this process has kind of turned into one of those complicated home improvement projects. You know they type: You remove, by hand, 20 cubic yards of soil for your new swimming pool only to have your spouse walk out the back, give the dreaded shake of the head and suggest a bird bath and herb garden instead. (The home improvement analogy is appropriate because as we’ve previously reported, the big item at tonight’s meeting is consideration of Menards’ plan to build a home improvement center near 31st and Iowa streets.)
We’ll have to wait and see how the transit hub debate plays out. In the meantime, I’m going to rest up for tonight’s meeting by doing the backstroke . . . in my birdbath.
Being a pioneer in a new industry can be a bit like taking a ride in my old F150: It can get mighty bumpy, and you’re wishing you would have known beforehand that the brakes sometimes don’t work.
Scott Zaremba, owner of the Lawrence-based Zarco 66 gasoline and convenience store chain, has been a pioneer in the industry of E15 ethanol. As we’ve previously reported, Zaremba’s Zarco chain became the first in the country to sell the E15 product, which is gasoline that contains 15 percent ethanol rather than the more standard blend of 10 percent ethanol.
According to an article this week from the news organization Reuters, Zaremba is finding out how rough the ride can be in the E15 industry. The article paints a picture of some of the largest companies on the planet — oil companies like Exxon, Chevron, BP, and Phillips 66 — taking aim at the E15 industry. Zaremba and his Zarco stations, apparently, have become one of the first targets.
Phillips 66 has sent Zaremba a new set of regulations on how he must sell the E15 product in order to stay in compliance with his marketing contract with Phillips 66. The end result has been Zaremba stopped selling the E15 product at his stations last month. It is estimated there are now fewer than 30 stations nationwide that sell the product.
The new protocols would require Zaremba to add special yellow hoses to all his pumps to dispense the E15 product. Previously, Zarco dispensed the product through the same hose that carried traditional unleaded gasoline, which has up to 10 percent ethanol in it.
Zaremba said adding the hoses would cost several hundred thousand dollars. In the Reuters article, Phillips 66 officials said the change is about ensuring motorists know that they are buying a different product than traditional gasoline. The article notes that use of E15 can void the warranty of many vehicles that are older than 2013 models.
But Zaremba told me he’s convinced the new regulations are part of an effort by Big Oil to nip the E15 trend in the bud. Zaremba said the stakes are significant for Big Oil because E15, if widely adopted, could reduce the oil company’s market share in the gasoline industry by 5 percent. In addition, it would create new competitive pressures that, in theory, would help control the upward price pressures in gasoline.
“I’ve had people complain to me for 40 years about the price of fuel,” Zaremba said. “I tell them we need to find something different. That is what we’re trying to do.”
Zaremba, who also is an advocate for biodiesel, compressed natural gas and other fuel alternatives, said he knows ethanol has received some negative publicity because of the impact it may have on the country’s food supply and the amount of water it takes to produce.
But he said the potential is strong for ethanol to be produced from other nonfood-producing crops, if the ethanol market can withstand the negative publicity that he believes is being generated by the Big Oil companies.
Zaremba, who is the president of the state’s petroleum marketers association and also an officer with the national trade group, said the figures he’s seen indicate the big oil companies will spend tens of millions of dollars this year lobbying against the E15 product.
“I understand what is going on,” Zaremba said. “If you were making a billion dollars a quarter, would you want some little guy from Kansas trying to change your dynamic? Of course you wouldn’t. Would you try to create every negative article you could to protect your product? I bet you would.”
As for the future of E15 in Lawrence, Zaremba said he’s not sure at the moment. He said he hasn’t yet filed any legal action against Phillips 66, but said he’s still crafting a strategy that would allow him to resume selling the product at some point.
“When you are the first, it is never easy,” Zaremba said. “That’s where we are right now. But I chose this path because I believe we have to do something different.”
If City Manager David Corliss has his way, property tax bills in Lawrence may go up just a bit in 2014.
Corliss is in the process of preparing his recommended 2014 city budget, but he has provided city commissioners a peek at one of the bottomline numbers. Corliss is forecasting that his recommended budget will call for at least a 0.4 mill increase in the city’s property tax rate, mainly to pay for four new positions in the city-county 911 center, for increased overtime costs for the police department and for additional equipment in the public works department.
In case your abacus is acting up in the heat, let me take my shoes off and do the math for you. A 0.4 mill increase would amount to an extra $9.20 a year in property taxes for the owner of a $200,000 home.
But as the saying goes at City Hall, the city manager proposes and the City Commission disposes. In other words, just because Corliss is recommending a mill levy increase doesn’t mean that City Commissioners will approve one.
Corliss is scheduled to provide a budget update to commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting. But most of the heavy budget lifting for the commission comes after Corliss releases his recommended budget, which is scheduled to happen in the last week of June. Commissioners then have until early August to finalize the budget for 2014.
There are still several questions outstanding on what else will be included in Corliss’ recommended budget. Budget-makers will have to make some decisions related to the budget for the Lawrence Public Library. Leaders at the library have asked for about $173,000 in additional funding for its operations. The library’s mill levy is separate from the city’s general fund mill levy, but both are controlled by city commissioners. Corliss didn’t provide a forecast for what may happen to that mill levy, but staff members previously have said the additional funding would either require a mill levy increase or a draw down of the library’s reserve funds. In other words, the total increase in the tax rate for city property owners may be more than 0.4 mill, depending on what happens to the library fund.
A mill levy increase for the library shouldn’t really catch anybody by surprise. During the bond election, library supporters said they would need a mill levy increase for both the construction of the expanded library and for the operations of the larger facility. Thus far, city commissioners have mainly just increased the mill levy to cover the construction costs but not the operational costs. The library is expected to move into the larger facility in 2014.
If the city’s mill levy does increase, it will continue a trend. The city’s property tax rate has increased each of the last two years, mainly due to increased spending to add more police officers and the voter-approved $19 million library expansion. The increases ended a period in the mid-to-late 2000s where the mill levy either held steady or declined. Here’s a look at mill levy rates:
• 2003: 28.09
• 2004: 27.86
• 2005: 26.36
• 2006: 26.36
• 2007: 26.79
• 2008: 26.65
• 2009: 26.69
• 2010: 26.69
• 2011: 28.61
• 2012: 29.53.
It is also worth noting that in 2008, city voters approved three new sales taxes — two for public transit and one for infrastructure — that took significant pressure off the city’s property.
It will be interesting to see if city commissioners balk at any increase in the mill levy this year, or whether they are willing to live with a small increase. An increase this year will come on the heels of the city’s decision to use recently unencumbered sales tax dollars to pay for a $25 million recreation center and infrastructure for the KU-oriented Rock Chalk Park project. City commissioners resisted calls to use those recently unencumbered sales tax dollars to fund other city budget priorities.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
Bedbugs on the radar screen of city officials; new ordinance would allow City Hall to create rules to exterminate pests
And here you thought property maintenance just meant keeping the grass mowed, the house painted, the roof shingled, and other such matters.
Well, add one more item to the chore list: Controlling bedbugs.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are scheduled to approve a new ordinance that will get the ball rolling on creating regulations to control bedbug infestations in the city.
Commissioners are creating a new “Property Maintenance Code.” Most of the code provisions are just a rewrite and combination of two different sections that existed in the city’s building permit codes and in the city’s general code book.
But the city doesn’t have much on the books in terms of how property owners must treat bedbug infestations. The new code doesn’t create a specific set of requirements, but rather gives the city’s director of planning and development services the authority to create specific regulations on how bedbugs should be dealt with.
Lawrence has had some issues with the pests, which frequently live in mattresses or clothes and create health risks by biting and sucking the blood of their victims.
We reported in 2010 a spike in the number of bedbug complaints in the city. That was about the time that bedbug infestations were starting to get publicity in other parts of the country as well.
In a memo to commissioners, city staff members argue that the city should get involved with the regulation of bedbug extermination because the pests can quickly grow into a citywide problem. The pests can embed themselves in clothing, mattresses or furniture that may be moved from one residence to another.
Lawrence may be at particular risk for bedbug infestations because of the number of students who move in and out of the community or who travel home and unknowingly may bring the bedbugs back with them. Our 2010 article noted that KU officials had spent some time talking with students about the risks of bedbugs, and how to prevent their spread.
I’m not sure what the situation is today with the number of bedbug cases in the city, but I’ll check with the proper officials and report back.
I suspect people who have had bedbug infestations will appreciate the city getting involved in the issue. According to the last article we wrote, it sounds like figuring out how to get rid of the pests can be confusing. It also sounds like it can be expensive. Back in 2010, one exterminator estimated that a typical heat treatment — a process where the infested area is heated to about 130 degrees — would cost more than $500.
While reading through the code about bedbugs, I also found several other items of note about what the city requires in terms of property maintenance. I don’t think any of these are really new requirements, but under the new code, they may become easier to enforce. Here’s a look at a few:
• Here’s the list of no-no’s that you should not allow to accumulate in your yard or on your porch or deck: lumber, wire, metal, tires, concrete, masonry products, plastic products, supplies, equipment, machinery, auto parts, stoves, refrigerators, televisions, sinks, garbage, refuse, junk, or the like.
• No person shall allow in their yard a dead or substantially dead tree.
• Water from a sump pump shall not be discharged at a point closer than five feet from any adjoining property line.
• Essentially every window used to ventilate a room should have an insect screen.
• “Leaning, buckling, sagging or deteriorating” fences shall be repaired. Any fence that was painted and now has “chipping, peeling, scaling or missing paint” on at least 20 percent of its area shall be repainted or stripped and given a water-resistant coating.
• It is against the code to put out your city-issued trash cart before 7 a.m. the day before your scheduled trash day. It also is against the code to leave your trash cart out at the curb for longer than 24 hours after your trash has been picked up.
• It is legal to store your city trash cart outside your house or garage, but the code says it should be stored no farther than three feet from the exterior wall of your house or shed. In other words, storing it in the middle of your yard would be a violation.
One thing that this new code isn't expected to change is that most of these property maintenance code violation matters are dealt with on a complaint bases. In other words, the city doesn't send out inspectors to search for such violation, as a general rule. The city also has taken an approach of trying to get property owners to simply remedy the violation rather than writing an actual ticket. But the code does allow for Municipal Court fines for $100 to $500 for violations of the code.
This is fair warning to all you K-10 commuters who may stop at the McDonald’s in De Soto to get your morning caffeine fix: By Thursday morning, the restaurant will be rubble. (Perhaps like you without caffeine.)
Lawrence-based Dobski & Associates, the owner of the area McDonald’s franchise, has confirmed it will tear down the De Soto store on Thursday morning and begin building a larger McDonald’s that is expected to open in late September.
The new store will have seating for 89 people, up from 40 in the current restaurant. Other design features:
• Free Wi-Fi Internet service and a host of electrical outlets designed for customers to recharge their laptops.
• A side-by-side double drive-thru window system to increase drive-thru capacity.
• A special third window designed to serve customers who have to wait for a special order. (Perhaps caffeine-laced french fries. They can’t do that, can they?)
Michael Dobski, owner/operator of the De Soto location and son of Dobski & Associate founders Tom and Marilyn Dobski, said the De Soto restaurant was 22 years old and the decision was made that the restaurant needed an expansion and update.
The store has about 30 employees, and Dobski spokesman Patrick Manning said those employees will be transferred to other Dobski-owned McDonald's restaurants during the construction period.
The new restaurant will be on the same site as the current McDonald’s, which is along Kansas Highway 10, just east of the primary De Soto interchange.
Forget about the city waiting for its ship to come in. Its train finally has arrived.
Lawrence officials have been awarded a federal transportation grant that will pay for 80 percent of the approximate $1.5 million cost to renovate the Santa Fe depot in East Lawrence.
The 1950s-era depot at Seventh and New Jersey streets would receive a major makeover with that level of funding. The building, currently owned by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, long has needed a new roof, new heating and cooling systems and other mechanical repairs. But with the grant money, improvements to parking and other improvements also are likely. The station already has received $1.5 million in upgrades to its boarding platform from Amtrak to help make the station ADA compliant.
Now city officials will need to restart discussions with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway about purchasing the depot. The railroad previously has expressed interest in selling the station to the city for a nominal amount. There have been conditions — such as the railway not wanting to sell the ground the station is on, and the need for the city to accept any environmental liability that exists on the property — that are likely to require more discussion. But city staff members have said indicated railway officials are still open to negotiation on the purchase terms.
The city also will have to come up with a little more than $300,000 in local money to meet the 20 percent matching requirement of the grant. That probably will be an unexpected expense in the 2014 budget, but it is a one-time expense, and the city previously has made it a priority to find money to take advantage of federal grants. What won’t be a one-time expense will be the city’s costs to maintain, heat and cool the building. Those expenses will have to be built into future budgets.
It also will be interesting to see if the city starts looking for additional uses for the building. Its main use will continue to be as a train depot, particularly for the Southwest Chief Amtrak train that comes through the city twice daily. The city, however, had been seeking other uses for the building, in part to improve the building’s chances of receiving grants. A plan to make the depot the central station for the city’s bus system was considered but ultimately rejected because of space concerns and objections from several neighbors.
Now that the building seems to have a much brighter future, I wouldn't be surprised if other groups start getting more serious about ways that they can use the building during the day. The Amtrak stops are late at night and early in the morning, leaving the station largely unused during normal business hours.
Based on the terms of the grant, the city needs to have a renovation project underway by September 2014. The grant the city received was a Transportation Enhancement grant, which is funded with federal dollars but is awarded by the Kansas Department of Transportation. I’m a bit surprised the TE grant program didn’t become wrapped up in the federal sequestration, but it appears it hasn’t.
The depot project was the largest TE grant project the city applied for in this funding cycle. But there were others, and there is good news on those fronts, as well. City officials have received word they’ve received Transportation Enhancement funding for two other projects:
• A grant of $218,838 to extend the paved Burroughs Creek Rail Trail from 23rd Street to 29th Street. The trail — which runs along the eastern edge of Haskell Indian Nations University — currently exists as a paved gravel path. The funding will allow the route to be paved, similar to the Burroughs Creek Rail Trail that is just north of 23rd Street. In case you are having a hard time picturing the area, it is just below the recently-replaced 23rd Street bridge. That project included a new parking area for people to access the trails. Like the depot grant, the city will need to come up with a 20 percent match in local funds — about $43,000 for this project.
• A grant of $55,000 to restore some old stone monuments at the entrance of the historic Breezedale neighborhood just south of 23rd and Massachusetts streets. The city will need to provide a 20 percent match, or about $11,000.
City commissioners will be asked to formally accept the grants at a future City Commission meeting.
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.
Area bridegrooms have it easy these days. It used to be that planning a wedding involved so much running around that you would ruin a perfectly good set of radials. (As I’ve explained many times, that’s why I bought her a new set of Goodyears for our first anniversary.)
But now there has been a new development in the world of local wedding planning. J. Lynn Bridal has opened up a full service bridal and wedding shop in the Holiday Plaza shopping center at 2449 South Iowa Street. The shop has a heavy emphasis on dresses, tuxedos and other such nuptial accessories. More on the new business in a moment. But first I want to help area grooms. Think of what is located just across the parking lot from the new bridal store. First, there is Kief’s Audio and Video, where you can pick up some new audio equipment for the reception. Then, there is Biggs BBQ, where you can sample and order the several hundred slabs of ribs that will be needed for the reception meal. And finally, there is Sunflower Pawn, where you can get the gifts for the wedding party. Wedding planning done in about an hour. She’ll be so surprised.
I suppose you could run the plan by the folks at J. Lynn, if you feel you must. The new business — which opened about two weeks ago — also provides wedding consulting services.
Owner Jena Lynn Dick said she decided to open the shop after seeing so many people travel to Kansas City or elsewhere to do their wedding shopping. She’s confident a bridal shop can do well in Lawrence because the city seems to be gaining quite the reputation as a wedding location.
“I really couldn’t believe that Lawrence didn’t have anything like this,” Dick said. “With the university, lots of people keep KU near and dear to their hearts and want to get married here. It is really a neat city for weddings.” Dick — who grew up in Lawrence — said the shop offers bridal gowns, bridesmaid dresses, mother’s dresses, flower girl dresses, shoes and accessories, tuxedo and suit rentals, and seamstress services. The business also will take on entire event planning.
The business also carries a line of prom and formal wear dresses.
Excuse me while I put away my cot here at Lawrence City Hall. City commissioners met from about 3:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday. And with several big topics — the recreation center and the budget — there were a few items of note that my deadline didn’t give me time to write about. So, let’s fix that:
• The Lawrence Community Shelter will get more bus passes to provide to residents of the shelter. There was much discussion at Tuesday’s meeting about simply making the bus stop at the homeless shelter a free stop, meaning people entering the bus at that location wouldn’t have to pay the $1 fare.
Transit staff members recommended against that option. They were concerned about the precedent it might set. Commissioners instead decided to give the shelter 50 bus passes a day. At $1 per pass, the passes have a market value of a little more than $15,000 for a year. Currently, the shelter receives about seven passes per day from the city, although the shelter uses private money to buy additional passes.
Shelter director Loring Henderson said the demand for bus passes from residents is far outstripping the supply. As you probably remember, late last year the shelter moved from downtown to the far eastern edge of the city, next to the Douglas County Jail.
Both city and shelter leaders knew transportation would be an issue, but it has been a bigger problem than expected, Henderson said. The shelter gives passes to residents for purposes such as job interviews, doctor’s appointments and other appointments related to their efforts to find work and housing. The shelter operates its own van service as well, but has found that fuel prices alone will total about $15,000 a year.
“I want people to understand we’re not unhappy with the facility or its location at all,” Henderson said. “If we were in the middle of downtown, there would be other issues we are dealing with. There are always issues to deal with. This is the issue we’re dealing with at this location.”
• The more interesting information about the shelter is that the facility already is running at near capacity, Henderson told commissioners.
The shelter has been at or near its 125-person capacity on most nights, even as the weather has turned warmer. “The 125 number is one that we thought we may reach on freezing nights, but it really has become an almost every-night number,” Henderson said.
Henderson said he thought the increase largely could be attributed to the rise in the number of homeless families that now feel comfortable using the new shelter.
• Shelter officials also are asking for a unique piece of financial assistance from the city. Shelter leaders want the city to provide financing for about $500,000 in construction costs that were related to the new facility.
The shelter currently is repaying a $500,000 construction loan to a local bank, but that loan has a 5 percent interest rate. If the city shifted the loan over to the city’s books, the interest rate would be significantly lower. Shelter officials believe the interest rate could drop to about 2 percent, although that is dependent on the bond market. Henderson estimates the new financing could save the shelter about $15,000 a year in interest costs.
The shelter is proposing to repay the city the $500,000 in principal and interest over a 30-year period. City commissioners took no action on the request. Instead, city staff members are researching the feasibility of the proposal.
• Tennis courts also were discussed at Tuesday’s meeting. The Lawrence Tennis Association has been lobbying for the city to install lights at the eight tennis courts near Lawrence High. Nearby residents have staunchly opposed the idea because they fear the lights would shine into their homes.
Commissioners thought they had settled the issue earlier by agreeing to build eight lighted tennis courts at the Rock Chalk Park property in northwest Lawrence. Tennis association members said they’re excited about the prospect of those courts, but they still feel that lighting the existing courts makes sense and would complete a promise made by the city.
So commissioners agree to re-open the issue. But the effort to add lights was about as successful as my backhand volley. (If I played on the courts, neighbors would need to worry about tennis balls entering their homes, not light.)
Residents around the court nearly filled the City Commission room to express opposition to the lighting plan. Commissioners had heard enough, and voted 5-0 to deny the lighting. Commissioners also directed staff members to look at the special-use permit for the tennis courts and determine whether language could be added to the permit to make it clear there won’t be lights at the facility in the future.
The tennis issue has been a lengthy one. The issue has been brewing since 2008, when the school district approved plans to remove the previous courts to make way for renovations at Lawrence High.
The issue also has been a costly one. Originally, the city was planning on spending $100,000 to add lights at the new facility. But when neighborhood opposition emerged, the city eventually shifted gears to the new tennis facility at Rock Chalk Park.
The city had estimated it would cost about $640,000 to build those courts, but it appears that estimate was low. Although it didn’t receive much discussion last night, commissioners did learn that the cost for the tennis facility has increased.
As part of the new estimates for Rock Chalk Park infrastructure, it was learned a $170,000 retaining wall will need to be built as part of the tennis court project. In case you add like I volley, that brings the tennis court portion of the project to $810,000.