Potential deal to bring gigabit Internet service to Eudora may delay plans for Lawrence; city committee rejects plan to demolish East Lawrence Quonset hut
Forget keeping up with Kansas City. When it comes to widespread, super-fast gigabit Internet service, there are new signs that Lawrence is struggling to keep up with Baldwin City and Eudora. There is word out of Eudora that RG Fiber is close to signing an agreement to bring gigabit Internet service to that community, which also likely would delay any plans that RG Fiber has to bring the super-fast Internet service to Lawrence.
The Eudora City Commission on Monday had on its agenda a license agreement with Baldwin City-based RG Fiber. The commission didn’t yet approve the license agreement, but it is scheduled for a vote at a commission meeting later this month.
Mike Bosch, founder of RG Fiber, told me this morning that he is “very optimistic” an agreement will be reached with Eudora officials, and he hopes to announce details in the next several weeks about bringing gigabit service to homes and businesses in Eudora.
RG Fiber is the company that previously has announced a project to bring gigabit service — which is the same type of service Google Fiber is building in Kansas City — to Baldwin City and the Baker University campus.
As part of that project, Bosch planned to run fiber optic cable through Lawrence en route to Baldwin City. Bosch planned to use that fiber optic cable to also offer service in Lawrence. He had sought agreements with the city of Lawrence to lease some unused portions of city-owned fiber optic cable that would allow RG Fiber to begin offering gigabit service along major corridors in the city, such as Iowa, 23rd, Sixth and several other major streets.
In late January, Lawrence city commissioners met on the subject and appeared close to approving a fiber policy that would have allowed for a lease agreement to be entered into with RG Fiber. But then the fiber policy never did reappear on the City Commission’s agenda.
In the meantime, Bosch said discussions with the city of Eudora began to intensify. Bosch said he has found an alternative route to bring the needed fiber optic cable into Baldwin City. That route doesn’t involve Eudora, but he said he became interested in the Eudora market because he has investor capital that he needs to put to work.
As for what all this means for RG Fiber’s plans to offer service in Lawrence, Bosch said he’s still very much interested in the Lawrence market.
“But if the Eudora project goes through, we won’t have as much capital to build in Lawrence as we had hoped,” Bosch said.
Bosch said that likely could mean a delay for any project the company would undertake in Lawrence.
Bosch said the company, though, certainly is still interested in the Lawrence market. It could raise additional capital to expand in Lawrence, but Bosch said it was becoming difficult for RG Fiber to reserve capital for a Lawrence project without knowing when the city may act on RG’s request. Bosch said the process in Lawrence, thus far, has taken about a year longer than he anticipated.
Lawrence city commissioners met on Jan. 27 about a fiber policy that would have cleared a path for the city to sign a lease agreement with RG Fiber. The policy was recommended for approval by both the city’s own staff and also by a city-hired consultant. Commissioners, though, delayed a vote on the policy, but indicated it wanted to have the issue brought back up in the next several weeks.
Bosch said hasn’t received any substantive update from city officials on the fiber policy since that late January meeting.
“I really believe the elections and the questions surrounding the commission just overtook the fiber policy,” Bosch said. “It just never made it back to the agenda.”
Now, three new commissioners have taken seats on the five-member City Commission. Bosch said he hopes the new commission will consider approving the fiber policy soon.
“I really do still want to work with Lawrence,” Bosch said.
As for more details about the potential agreement with Eudora, Bosch said he didn’t want to comment on that agreement until it was finalized. I’ve put a call into the city administrator for Eudora, but haven’t yet heard back.
In terms of the Baldwin City project, the company has bought a building in downtown Baldwin City and has started to equip it for the project. Bosch said there have been some vendor delays, but the project is on track to begin hooking up customers this summer.
Bosch said RG is selling residential plans that offer 1 gigabit of service — both upload and download speeds — for $80 a month. If customers want to add a television package, the price is about $135 a month, depending on what package is selected, he said. Commercial gigabit accounts will start at $135 per month.
The Baldwin City project will include wiring all of Baker University’s campus — both its classrooms and its residence halls – with gigabit service. Bosch said he believes Baker will become the first campus in Kansas to be fully wired for gigabit service.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If there is anything sexier than super-fast Internet service these days, it is surely old Quonset huts. If you remember back in November, we reported that Black Hills Energy had filed plans with City Hall to demolish its Quonset hut maintenance building near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets. You also may remember that some East Lawrence residents and the developer of the Poehler lofts building expressed concern about tearing down the old building.
Well, the city’s Historic Resources Commission agreed. It has voted against a plan that would allow for the removal of the building. Black Hills Energy, however, has filed an appeal of that decision. So, maybe it will be bib-overall night at City Hall soon because city commissioners are going to get to spend some time discussing Quonset huts. Scott McCullough, the city’s director of planning, told me he expects the appeal to be brought to the City Commission for a final decision in the next couple of weeks.
Black Hills wants to remove the building as it prepares to sell the site. The natural gas company no longer uses the building for its maintenance crew. But others in the neighborhood have said the building represents a rare form of architecture that is worth preserving. Others have said the building could be turned into something cool that would fit in with the adjacent Warehouse Arts District.
McCullough said the Historic Resources Commission voted against the plan, in part, because the building sits in a conservation overlay district that calls for replacement plans to be presented before any buildings are demolished. McCullough said Black Hills has indicated it doesn’t plan to replace the building, but rather would turn the site into a gravel lot while it seeks a buyer.
I’ll let you know when I hear more details about when he issue will next arrive at City Hall.
Hy-Vee to add Starbucks, sushi and other items as part of remodel project; KCC seeks comments on proposed natural gas rate increase
Granola, Starbucks, sushi, a big deli sandwich and perhaps a conversation with a dietician. Perhaps a rather long conversation with a dietician. All those items and more are slated to be part of a remodeling project now underway at the Hy-Vee on Sixth Street.
City officials have issued a nearly $70,000 building permit for the store at 4000 W. Sixth St., and store manager Andy Sutton tells me that the first changes customers will notice is a new Starbucks store. Hy-Vee has been featuring the Caribou Coffee brand, and it will remain the brand served from Hy-Vee's kitchen. But Sutton said Starbucks has been a popular addition at other Hy-Vee locations.
There is little doubt it will be popular in west Lawrence. I haven't yet been able to confirm that the city is undertaking a project that will allow for Starbucks coffee to come directly out of the faucets of west Lawrence homes, but surely planning for the project is underway. Unless I've lost count, this will be the third Starbucks between Wakarusa and Monterrey Way — one in Dillons, one standalone store and now one in Hy-Vee.
The Hy-Vee-based Starbucks is slated to be open by mid-July. The Starbucks, though, is just the beginning. By the end of August, several other improvements should be completed. They include:
— A doubling in size of the store's health market section. When all is said and done, Hy-Vee will have more than 300 bins for bulk product items like whole grains, beans, nuts, granola and other items.
"As consumers' lifestyles change, we need to update as well," Sutton said. "Health markets were in their infancy when this store was built, and now it is the product that customers really demand."
— A "resetting" of the store's center aisles to increase product variety, especially with ethnic and Asian foods.
— Ready to eat food offerings will grow with a new fresh, sushi bar and a new Italian and delicatessen case.
— A more visible and accessible office will be created for the store's dietician to encourage customers to stop by and have conversation with the full-time professional. Sutton said customers will be able to get shopping tips related to weight-loss strategies, gluten-free diets, options for diabetics and other such topics. The dietician office will be near the front of the store where the customer service photo area is located.
Those are the main changes on tap for this remodeling project, but shoppers should keep their eyes open for other changes in the next few years.
Sutton said that in the next three years, Hy-Vee plans to add the Market Grille or Market Cafe concept to many, if not all, of its stores. The concept means a portion of the store will turn into a more traditional restaurant, complete with waiters and waitresses. Before you freak out, the option to buy directly out of the cases or the salad bar, and seat yourself will remain, but Hy-Vee is finding some people like the full restaurant experience at their stores.
The Market Cafe concept, according to Hy-Vee's website, offers a menu of hamburgers and flatbreads and other such fare. The Market Grille, however, offers those items plus steaks, chops and other forms of higher dining. In fact, it looks like some of the Market Grilles come equipped with a bar and craft brews and such. It looks like the nearest Market Grille concept is located at 151st Street in Olathe.
Like I said, neither the cafe nor grille is in the plans for this remodel, but keep an eye open for that trend. West Lawrence residents, I'm sure, will have plenty of caffeine to keep both eyes open.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It won't be as much fun as buying 42 pounds of granola in bulk, but you may want to mark calendars for a meeting on July 10. The Kansas Corporation Commission will be in Lawrence to discuss a proposed rate increase for Black Hills Energy, the largest natural gas provider in the city.
Black Hills has filed a proposed rate increase that would increase the average monthly bills of residential consumers by 7.5 percent and for commercial customers by 9.9 percent. Much of the increase comes in the form of an increase in the monthly service charge, which shows up regardless of how much gas you use. For residents, it is proposed to increase to $21.70 per month, up from $16, according to information from the KCC. For commercial customers, it would rise to $36, up from $22.75.
Black Hills officials say the rate increase is needed to recover the significant amount of money they have invested to keep the system "safe, reliable and efficient." The company also notes that its wages, medical costs and supplier costs are on the rise.
The proposed rate increase, however, doesn't have anything to do with how much natural gas is selling for on the open market. Black Hills simply passes along the cost of the gas to customers. How Black Hills makes its money is by charging a fee for the delivery of the gas. The KCC, however, regulates the rates Black Hills can charge for that service.
Black Hills has a website that explains why it is asking for the increase, and also has a calculator to help you figure out how much your bill may increase. Black Hills' last rate increase was in 2007.
The July 10 meeting will be at 6 p.m. at the Dole Institute of Politics. Public comment will be accepted. The KCC will be accepting public comment on the proposed rate increase through Sept. 22. For more information on how to submit written comment, click here.
New poles may be installed in Lawrence neighborhoods as part of Black Hills wireless meter-reading project
If you still get riled up about a new cell phone tower being erected in the county, you’re so stuck in the 1990s.
These days, the argument is just as likely to be about communication equipment that is erected right next to your house.
Perhaps some of you remember that a few residents of Old West Lawrence expressed concern about AT&T installing large boxes of communication equipment on city rights-of-way near people’s homes. The boxes were for AT&T’s U-Verse service, and the city was caught a bit off-guard by the trend. But city officials have since created a new agreement that covers placement of that equipment.
Well, the trend continues, and this time it is with the city’s largest natural gas company: Black Hills Energy. Black Hills Energy plans to begin an Advanced Metering Infrastructure project in the city. If you are a meter reader, that should make you cringe because meter readers, it appears, likely will have time to hang out with telegraph operators and pager salesmen.
What it means to everybody else is poles. There likely will be more poles springing up in the city. The poles will house an antenna like device, a communications box and a solar panel. Based on what I previously have heard from Black Hills, most natural gas meters in Lawrence send out a signal that contains your usage information.
Currently, a van full of equipment drives up and down the streets of Lawrence and captures the signal and the data. But with the new system, strategically placed antennas will capture the data and send it to a central billing location. That will eliminate the driving up and down the streets of Lawrence to read the meters.
Black Hills is proposing 29 antenna sites. Ten of the sites are on existing traffic signals. The remaining 19, however, will require the installation of a new pole. Click here to read a report that includes a full list of the sites.
As proposed most of the poles will be placed on city right-of-way, — a couple will be on property owned by Black Hills — meaning most of the poles will show up in places where you would expect to see a street light, for example.
Public Works Director Chuck Soules told me most of the poles will be about 30 feet tall. , The city and Black Hills have created some photo illustrations that indicate the poles will be as tall, or perhaps a bit taller, than a standard street light pole. Soules said Black Hills wants to start work on the project immediately.
City commissioners will get briefed on the project at their Tuesday evening meeting. It will be interesting to watch how the project unfolds. The technology has caught the interest of the city. The city reads thousands of water meters each month, and most of them are still read by people who walk up to the meter and record the data.
According to a city memo, the city has “discussed the opportunity to possibly share some of this technology/infrastructure with Black Hills.” There doesn’t appear to be an immediate change on the horizon, but according to the memo, Black Hill has indicated a willingness to cooperate when the city is ready to pursue the technology.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday.