Buffalo Wild Wings files plans for new restaurant on South Iowa Street; update on city broadband plans
A nice, spicy chicken wing does sound good today. Heck, on this cold and snowy day, wing sauce in my boots sounds good too. I can't confirm that Buffalo Wild Wings will do that for you, but I can confirm that the restaurant chain has filed plans to build a new restaurant on south Iowa Street.
The restaurant is the lead tenant for a new retail development slated for the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets. That's the location of a Chinese restaurant building that has been vacant since 2008, and an empty lot that years ago housed Mazzio's pizza. (Warm breadsticks from Mazzio's — which, at times, mysteriously looked like hot dog buns with melted cheese — sound good too today.)
The plans filed at City Hall show that Buffalo Wild Wings will take about 6,000 square feet in the new building, and that the growing tanning salon chain of Sun Tan City will occupy about 1,900 square feet. The plans also call for a 5,000 square-foot retail space that doesn't yet have a retail tenant identified. But I bet you it will get one. If you have forgotten, the site is caddy-corner from one of the more active retail corners in the city right now — the old Sears building that will house Dick's Sporting Goods and at least two other major tenants.
There hasn't been any definitive word on what this means for the Buffalo Wild Wings location in downtown Lawrence, but there is speculation that the downtown location will close and be replaced by this one. I've reached out to officials with Buffalo Wild Wings for several weeks now, including yesterday, and haven't been able to get any response.
But if you remember, we reported on speculation all the way back in July that Buffalo Wild Wings would be moving from downtown to this very spot at 27th and Iowa streets. Adding to the speculation that the restaurant will move out of downtown is that its current building at 1012 Massachusetts St. has been on the market. Buffalo Wild Wings is just a renter at the building, but potential buyers of the building have told me that the building doesn't come with a long-term lease for Buffalo Wild Wings. But, until we hear official word from the restaurant chain, it is too early to know for sure what the future holds for the downtown spot.
It is worth noting, though, that the Buffalo Wild Wings building has changed ownership in recent weeks. It is now owned by Christie Brothers LLC, which appears to be led by Michael Christie, who was also part of the previous ownership group of the building, Jayhawk Equities. So, it will be interesting to watch what happens at that location because it is a fairly large downtown space. I'll try to reach out to the new owners and report back.
It also will be interesting to watch for more changes along South Iowa Street as Dick's Sporting Goods gets closer to opening this summer. We've previously reported that two shopping centers near the area have changed hands: the Holiday Plaza Shopping Center at 25th and Iowa and the Tower Plaza Shopping Center at 2540 Iowa St. Well, there is one other smaller sale in the area to note. The property at 2500 Iowa St. also has sold in recent weeks. Longtime insurance agent Gary Petersen sold the building to Iowa 2500 LLC, which includes executives with the commercial real estate firm R.H. Johnson Co. Those are the same executives that also are part of the new ownership group of the Tower Plaza Shopping Center, which is adjacent to 2500 Iowa. In other words, leaders with R.H. Johnson Co. — which have attracted a lot of national retailers to Lawrence — now own pretty much the whole block.
Petersen, though, said there aren't any plans for his Shelter Insurance agency to move from the building. The building also houses a ProCuts hair salon.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps City Hall officials have discovered what I'm quickly discovering: A snow day isn't as much fun as it used to be. My fifth-grade son was up at 6 a.m. to begin practicing for an extravaganza of Olympic events he plans to host today, and, alarmingly, my second-grade daughter somehow has got her hands on a lit Olympic torch.
Anyway, all this is to say that as of about 9:30 this morning, city officials haven't yet canceled tonight's City Commission meeting. Stay tuned, though; that may change. Regardless, I'll give you an update on one item that may or may not get heard tonight.
City commissioners will consider officially issuing a "request for information" from companies interested in partnering with the city on improving broadband service in the community. The RFI comes as city officials are processing a request from Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband that asks the city for a $500,000 grant and several other incentives to conduct a pilot project that would bring super-fast Internet service to downtown and East Lawrence.
Wicked's proposal is to bring the same level of broadband speed to Lawrence as Google Fiber is installing in the Kansas City metro area. City officials, though, aren't necessarily asking for companies to come up with a plan to replicate the Google Fiber project. Instead, the RFI asks companies to "enhance the availability of high speed internet services for residents and businesses and to increase the competition amongst providers for these services in Lawrence."
The city is encouraging anyone and everyone who has some expertise in the area to respond to the RFI. That means both WOW and AT&T are being asked to provide a plan on how they can boost service in the community.
The RFI doesn't mention any financial incentives the city may be willing to offer. In other words, it doesn't say the city has $500,000 it is ready provide as grant money. But it does ask companies to describe what financial incentives it would seek from the city.
The bigger carrot the city is dangling is access to a significant amount of fiber optic cables the city owns throughout the community. Plus, the city controls all the rights-of-ways, traffic signals and several other facilities that broadband equipment could be mounted to.
Firms have an entire month to come up with their proposals. The deadline for responses, as it is currently proposed, is March 5. No word on how long it may take the city to evaluate the responses. Wicked's request for incentives is scheduled to go before the city's Public Incentive Review Committee on March 4. We'll see if that date changes.
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.
Costlier, slower, more limited: It is bringing back memories of the teacher comment section on my report cards.
Well, this is a report card of sorts, and "costlier, slower, more limited" is the key phrase in a new study of the city’s Internet broadband market. A consulting team hired by Lawrence City Hall found that the current broadband offerings in Lawrence generally are “costlier, slower and more limited than in other comparable communities.”
Fixing that situation, however, won’t be easy. Every once in a while the idea of the city owning and operating its own high-speed Internet broadband network is brought up. In other words, the city would jump into the Internet service provider market, and compete with the likes of Knology, AT&T and others. But the city would do it with high-speed, fiber-optic cable that runs directly to homes and businesses, as opposed to the slower, more traditional copper telephone and cable lines that serve much of Lawrence.
The idea is a recurring dream for technology geeks. But the latest numbers indicate it may be nothing more than a dream for quite some time. The consultants, CTC Technology & Energy, estimate that it will cost upwards of $70 million to build and deploy such a system in the city. That’s not an impossible number — it's about $25 million more than what the city is spending for a library and a recreation center — but the consultants are urging caution in the matter. Their analysis indicates the city would have to capture at least 50 percent of the entire market share in Lawrence to break even. That would be a tough number to reach, the consultants predict.
But there are other ways the city can make itself a more desirable high-speed Internet city – which not surprisingly, the consultants said will be very important in the future. Here’s a look at some of the recommendations:
• The city could spend around $320,000 to $640,000 to complete a 17-mile ring of fiber-optic cable around the city. The fiber would allow city, county, school and university facilities access to higher-speed Internet connections. The consultants say that alone is worth the cost of the project. But if built in the right way, excess capacity on the fiber ring could be leased out to private companies that have an interest in competing against the two large Internet providers in the city — AT&T and Knology. The report found there are at least three companies that have expressed an interest in such an idea: Level 3, Kansas Fiber Network and Wicked Broadband, which already leases some fiber from the city.
• New development regulations could be written that would require builders to install more fiber-optic infrastructure as a part of their projects. Loma Linda, Calif., has created development regulations that require “cable pathways, fiber connections and internal fiber wiring” be installed as part of any major residential or commercial building project. Sandy, Ore., goes even further. It requires developers to install conduit all the way from the public right-of-way to the home, and then deed that conduit to the city. The idea is that when fiber-optic projects reach a neighborhood, the most expensive part of the process already will be complete, courtesy of developers. The report estimates any new regulations would be a “small burden” to developers. We would see about that, but usually new regulations for developers produce something a bit larger than a “small debate” at City Hall.
• Sucking up to Google may be a good idea. The Google Fiber project in Kansas City is all the buzz in the tech world. The consultants said the city should at least make a more serious effort to have Google consider expanding the project to Lawrence. Google recently did announce that it was expanding the service to Olathe. The consultants reached out to the community manager for the Google Fiber project, and she asked that the city send a formal letter of interest to enter into discussions with Google about an expansion.
As for what the report had to say about Lawrence’s existing broadband providers, it wasn’t much different than what many ordinary folks say. The report found AT&T’s offerings are more limited than in several other comparable communities. With Knology, the consultants found the company’s base pricing is reasonably competitive with other markets, but its use of data caps on many plans makes it less competitive. The report didn’t provide any analysis of the recently-announced pilot project by Wicked Broadband to extend fiber to at least one neighborhood in Lawrence.
The report made several other recommendations and findings, but they were of a technical nature that went beyond my “costlier, slower and more limited” mind.
City commissioners will get a chance to digest the report soon. The City Commission is expected to formally receive the report and discuss possible next steps in the next several weeks.
It is fair to say that there already has been quite a bit of pot-stirring lately when it comes to providers of high-speed Internet service in Lawrence.
First, The World Company (the parent company of this Web site) sells Sunflower Broadband — the longtime, locally owned dominant provider of Internet service in the city — to Knology. Then, Knology sells itself to Colorado-based Wide Open West, which apparently has marketing people who drink a lot of caffeine because it officially goes by the name WOW!. Just to keep you on your toes, though, Knology hasn’t yet changed its name to WOW! here in Lawrence.
Meanwhile, the Internet provider Lawrence Freenet changed its name to Wicked Broadband and has begun expanding its service. (Its marketing people must drink whatever you drink while watching a marathon of the Wizard of Oz, because its tagline is “faster than a flock of flying monkeys.”)
And speaking of flying monkeys, there is Google. (That’s how they get all those search engine results, you know.) The world’s new corporate giant picked Kansas City, Kan., and then Kansas City, Mo., to launch its Google Fiber project, which promises to bring Internet service that is so fast that my wife would be able to deplete the entire inventories of online shopping sites with the single push of a button. The proximity of that project generated chatter in Lawrence about what it needs to do to keep up with the Jones of the broadband world.
Well, it is still a bit early to say that the pot is about to be stirred again — but there is an entity out there that is fiddling with the spoon. You may be surprised who it is: the city of Lawrence.
When it comes to valuable infrastructure, the city these days owns far more than roads, waterlines, parks and such. It also has large amounts of fiber optic cable or underground conduits to accept fiber optic cable.
At their Tuesday evening meeting, city commissioners will be asked to begin advertising for a consultant that can help the city determine how to best leverage its valuable fiber optic holdings.
What that will lead to is still uncertain. But a city staff memo points to a recent initiative in Seattle as an example of what other cities are trying to do with their fiber optic networks. One of the goals in Seattle is to increase competition among service providers.
It will be interesting to see if the city uses its fiber optic network in a way designed to lower the price of broadband services in the city. I don’t even know how the price of broadband services in Lawrence stack up to those in other communities. But I bet you tech companies thinking about moving to this area do.
The city already has been playing that game a bit. The folks at Wicked Broadband — mostly when it was Lawrence Freenet — have used city infrastructure to expand their service in town. The city and Wicked have an agreement that says Wicked will make efforts to provide low-cost Internet service to people who can’t afford it. According to the company’s Web site, 10 percent of a customer’s monthly service fee “helps bring Internet access to low-income households.”
The city has a fiber optic network or conduit that stretches all the way to Tee Pee Junction in North Lawrence to 23rd and Iowa in south Lawrence to the East Hills Business Park in eastern Lawrence and to west of the Sixth Street and South Lawrence Trafficway in west Lawrence.
But the city also wants a consultant to look at all the traffic signals, light poles, water towers and other city-owned structures that could accommodate equipment for wireless Internet service. Does the city have the infrastructure in place to create a wireless Internet cloud over the city? Given that until recently I kept going to The Raven to try to buy this Facebook everybody was talking about, I’m not the guy to ask. But a city-hired consultant is. We’ll get a read on Tuesday about how serious city commissioners are about being tech players in the community.