New chicken chain coming to south Iowa Street; rumor of new Mexican restaurant chain looking at 23rd Street; gentrification, East Lawrence and a pending conversation at City Hall
Chicken is on my mind. Buffalo wing sauce is on my tie. Crumbs of crispy, deep-fried breading may or may not be on the stubble of my beard. And all of this is before city leaders wisely rename south Iowa Street Deep Fried Drive to honor the chicken wars that are certain to come. In other words, there’s news of another chicken chain coming to south Lawrence.
Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers has filed plans at City Hall to build a new drive-through restaurant at the site of the former Emprise Bank location at 2435 Iowa St. Back in February, we briefly reported that there was speculation Raising Cane’s was honing in on a site on south Iowa Street. It turns out that speculations was as true as fingers on chickens. (I would have never thought they were so stubby. I guess that is why you never see a chicken playing the piano.)
Raising Cane’s would be the third chicken restaurant to open along a two-block stretch of south Iowa Street in recent months. Buffalo Wild Wings is open in a brand new building at the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets, and Chick-fil-A is under construction caddy-corner from Wild Wings in the parking lot of Dick’s Sporting Goods. No word yet on when Chick-fil-A will open, but the restaurant has filed for a permit to set up a trailer to begin taking job applications on the site.
As for Raising Cane’s, they really are focused on chicken fingers. As near as I can tell, its entire menu is just chicken fingers served in different packages. It has one chicken sandwich on the menu, but it actually is three chicken fingers in a kaiser roll. The restaurant touts its chicken fingers as never frozen, premium chicken tenderloins that are marinated for 24 hours and then hand-battered and cooked to order. Sides look like crinkle cut fries, Texas toast and some coleslaw. A special mayonnaise type of sauce with a kick also is a staple of the menu. Plus, for those of you who like a little tea with your sugar, the restaurant serves the southern delight of sweet tea.
The restaurant may be unfamiliar to several of us. It looks like the chain currently does not have any locations in Kansas or Missouri. According to its website it has multiple locations in Tulsa and Oklahoma City to the south, and also Lincoln and Omaha to the north. The restaurant got its start in 1996 with a single restaurant near the entrance of Louisiana State University.
No word yet on when the restaurant may open in Lawrence. Plans filed at City Hall call for the approximately 3,600-square-foot bank building to be torn down and replaced with an approximately 2,900 square foot restaurant with a drive-thru. So, it likely will take several months before the restaurant opens.
And while we’re talking about chicken, don’t forget there is also one other entrant into this battle, although this one will be on 23rd Street. We reported back in April that former high-flying Jayhawk basketball player and current European star Keith Langford had signed a deal to bring Wing Stop to Lawrence. Langford has said the restaurant will be in the Louisiana Purchase Shopping Center near the Mr. Goodcents.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps South Iowa Street will become for chicken what West 23rd Street has become for Mexican food. As I have noted before, there are four Mexican restaurants within about two-tenths of a mile on 23rd Street — Taco Bell, Taco John’s, Chipotle and Border Bandido. We previously have reported a fifth — a place called Panchos Mexican Restaurant — has filed plans to go next door to Border Bandido in the old Pizza Hut location. That development has been slow to materialize, but when I last checked, the plans were still active.
Well, I’m hearing speculation of another Mexican-themed development along the stretch of road, and oddly, it is not the Mexican embassy. I’m hearing the Mexican chain Qdoba is looking at property along West 23rd Street. I’ll work to firm up a few details and report back to when I get additional information.
• Perhaps a bowl of chips and salsa, a side of chicken fingers and about five gallons of sweet tea would facilitate a good conversation at Lawrence City Hall. It appears city commissioners may need to have a complicated conversation about gentrification.
If you are confused, don’t feel bad. I too thought it was a lot like a taquito, but it is not. Gentrification basically is the idea of revitalization of property in a distressed neighborhood causing property values and property taxes to rise to a point that poorer residents can no longer afford to live in the neighborhood.
The idea has been brought up a few times at City Hall, especially as it relates to East Lawrence. The idea came up again at last night’s meeting. My colleague Peter Hancock reported that Commissioner Leslie Soden expressed concern about expanding the use of the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Act to include entire neighborhoods that city officials deem in need of revitalization. The act would allow property owners to receive a partial, multi-year property tax rebate for making improvements to their property. Several communities across the state use the act in such a manner to spur revitalization of targeted areas of their community.
But Soden said she’s not sure that is such a good idea in Lawrence.
“We already have a problem with affordable housing,” Soden said. “I’m not interested in spurring gentrification of our neighborhoods when we already have an affordable housing crisis.”
Perhaps gentrification would be a problem, although it would be interesting to see if that has been the net result in other communities across the state. There should be some good data on that. The act has been in place since 1994.
But it seems there also should be some discussion about what are the ramifications of the city trying to avoid gentrification. I don’t know the answer to that, but it creates interesting questions. If we are afraid of property values going up in a neighborhood, does the city try to discourage revitalization of areas that show signs of wear and tear? Is it only private improvements that increase property values, or do public projects do so as well? Are there existing homeowners who want to see their property values increase over time? What’s the city’s longterm strategy?
That last one is particularly interesting because the city has provided millions of dollars of incentives to help the East Lawrence Warehouse Arts District — and the affordable housing projects that are part of it — get off the ground. That was a past City Commission though. But still, it was a major decision by the City Commission, and clearly the Warehouse Arts District is the type of project that could cause property values in the area to increase. Is the city’s policy now going to be that ordinary citizens in East Lawrence who want to add a bedroom onto their home, build a new garage, or spruce up the house with new siding are the gentrification straw that breaks the camel’s back?
Again, I don’t know the answers, but it seems like it could be one of the more important discussions this new commission has. Expect it to come up as part of any future debate about the Neighborhood Revitalization Act, but also expect it to be part of the discussion of whether the city should support the Ninth Street arts corridor. The concern of gentrification has been brought up in that debate too.
At the moment, I think the best strategy is to order a refill on the chips and salsa.
Rock Chalk Park opponent files for City Commission seat; other campaign updates; pair of restaurants set to open next week
This is the way it goes in Lawrence these days. As soon as you get your turkey bib, your gravy fountain and your 42-inch pumpkin pie pan put away from Thanksgiving, we jump right into the next season. I, of course, am talking about Lawrence City Commission election season.
We’re in it, and we now have our second official candidate for the race. Lawrence resident Matthew Herbert has filed for one of the three seats that will be up for election on the five-member commission. Herbert is a Lawrence High civics and government teacher, and also operates a rental business, Renaissance Property Management.
Based on his website, he’s concerned with some of the past actions of the City Commission. He criticizes the increasing use of tax abatements and other financial incentives for private projects.
“As a Lawrence city commissioner I will promote economic development so long as it is done the right way,” Herbert says. “It would be my expectation that private industry finance private development with private dollars.”
Herbert also made it clear he was not a fan of the process used to move forward with the Rock Chalk Park project. He called the process, which involved nearly $12 million worth of infrastructure being built without a bid, a “fiasco.”
“The ‘no-bid’ contract that was handed out is inexcusable,” Herbert said. “As a city commissioner you are a steward of the public’s money. Mega-million dollar deals need to be both bid and bid with transparency. Whenever possible this type of expenditure must be put to a public vote.”
I’ve got a call out to Herbert and hope to bring you more information about him later today.
I’ve also been talking with some other potential candidates recently. Current City Commissioner Terry Riordan told me last night that he hopes to make a decision on whether to seek re-election in the next couple of weeks.
“I’m going out and talking to people I know, and seeing what they think,” Riordan said.
Riordan, who is a longtime physician in the community, acknowledged it has been kind of a controversial time period on the commission. He’s only in his second year on the commission, and thus got in on just the end of the Rock Chalk Park debate. But concerns about that project have lingered, and the City Commission took some criticism for the unsuccessful effort to pass a sales tax to support a new police headquarters facility. And don’t forget rental licensing. Those new regulations, which Riordan was a strong supporter of, made a lot of neighborhood residents happy, but left some landlords miffed. So, indeed, it has been an active two-year term for Riordan.
“I would like to be confident that I’m doing what the citizens want,” Riordan said of his current conversations.
For what it is worth, I think Riordan would like to run again.
“I’ve loved it,” he said of his time on the commission. “It is a tremendous opportunity to help the community.”
I’m less clear on the plans of current Lawrence school board member Kris Adair. I also chatted with her last night — we were all at a City Commission meeting — and she said she is still pondering a run for the City Commission. She said she doesn’t plan to make a decision until after Christmas.
Adair has a few things to think about. She has said she likely would resign her position on the Lawrence school board if she won a term on the City Commission. Adair also finds herself involved in an issue that is pending before the City Commission. She is a co-owner of Wicked Broadband, which is seeking a $300,000 loan guarantee from the city as part of a pilot project to bring Google Fiber-like high-speed Internet service to parts of downtown Lawrence.
Commissioners had a study session on that topic on Tuesday, but reached no decisions. But it looks like that issue will be decided one way or another before the April elections. Again, for what it is worth, Adair is starting to sound like a candidate. She’s taken a strong interest in economic development issues. As we have previously reported, she’s behind a project to start the Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship in a commercial building near Ninth and Iowa streets.
She said the center is expected to be open by Feb. 1, and she plans to serve as its director. The facility will serve as a center to help Lawrence residents build new businesses. It will include co-working space for businesses, a data center, a lab that can be used for some prototype work, and will host several entrepreneurship-based classes.
If she runs, it sounds like a change in economic development policy will be a major part of her campaign. She delivered public comment at last night’s City Commission meeting highlighting the poor results of the community’s job creations efforts over the last 10 years.
I’m also expecting at least two other Lawrence residents to file for the commission relatively soon. Eric Sader, a Lawrence attorney who also has a background in the social services industry, has told me he expects to file for a seat in early December. Leslie Soden, a small-business owner who has been active in the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association, continues to indicate she will run for a seat. She ran two years ago and narrowly missed winning a seat on the commission.
Current Commissioners Mike Dever and Bob Schumm both have terms that are expiring. Neither has made an official announcement, although Schumm has made comments indicating he is leaning toward running. Dever has said he likely won’t make a decision until January. If Dever runs again, he would be seeking his third consecutive term on the commission.
Certainly, Greg Robinson, a leader of the police sales tax opposition group, has been mentioned as a possible candidate, although I don’t have a clear sense on whether he will run. I’m hearing other names that are early in the process as well. All indications are there will be a large number of candidates in the race.
If seven or more candidates file for a seat on the commission, we’ll have a primary election to whittle the field to six on March 3. The general election will be April 7. The filing deadline for the race is noon on Jan. 27.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Prior to Herbert’s filing, Stan Rasmussen, a Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioner and an attorney for the U.S. Army, was the lone candidate who had filed. I briefly reported on his filing last month, but he wasn’t immediately available for an interview because of some work responsibilities.
But we did get together for an interview recently, and he said he’ll spend a lot of time in the campaign talking about the need for good long-term planning.
“You don’t go buy yourself a fancy new car in the summer and then say in September that I forgot I had tuition coming due,” Rasmussen said. “I have heard the questions from people about how did we put some of these wants and nice things ahead of a police facility that seems more like a need. Whether that is accurate or not, that perception is out there.”
Rasmussen said he fully expects another proposal for a police facility to emerge.
“The process of building consensus in the community for where and what and how we’re going to pay for a new police station will be really important,” he said.
He also said that the City Commission needs to be mindful of making sure the entire community feels like it is benefiting from new projects.
“I really want to work towards shared prosperity,” Rasmussen said. “If I put myself in the shoes of someone who lives in Prairie Park, going to Rock Chalk Park is probably not where I’m going to go to work out. I think it is understandable that some people feel a little left behind.”
Rasmussen also told me that he is resigning his position on the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission because he does not think it would be appropriate to run a campaign while serving on that board.
• You may want to drag out that Thanksgiving bib after all. Next week will be a big week for restaurants that have been known to make my tie look like a Picasso painting. Buffalo Wild Wings will open its new location at 27th and Iowa streets on Monday. It will be giving away free wings for a year to the first 100 people who are in line for the 10 a.m. opening of the restaurant.
As we previously reported, Buffalo Wild Wings has closed its downtown location to move to the new South Iowa spot, which is caddy-corner from Dick’s Sporting Goods.
I’m also being told that Dickey’s Barbecue Pit expects to be open by the end of next week, according to the landord of the space at Sixth and Wakarusa. As we previously have reported, that chain is taking the spot previously occupied by Johnny Brusco’s pizza.
One restaurant tid-bit that I’m getting some questions about but don’t yet have any answers on is Texas Roadhouse. Some of you have been to some area Texas Roadhouse locations and have been told by employees there that the steakhouse chain is coming to Lawrence, likely along South Iowa. I’m working to get some more information on that front, but at the moment have no confirmation on those rumors.
News on Buffalo Wild Wings opening date on south Iowa, closing date in downtown; Lawrence gets a peek at how other cities maintain sidewalks
Last night at a Lied Center Halloween costume contest, one of the winners was dressed like a piece of sushi. That costume would be safe at my doorstep, unless I was in the mood to fish. But as a court file somewhere can attest, a chicken wing ringing my doorbell is a different matter. (Who would have thought glazing someone with 55 gallons of wing sauce would cause “emotional scars?”) All this is to say that I have some news about Buffalo Wild Wings and its plans to leave downtown and open on south Iowa Street.
The regional manager for the company now tells me that Buffalo Wild Wings will open at its new location at 27th and Iowa on Dec. 8. It plans to close its downtown location on Massachusetts Street on Nov. 18.
“We’re thrilled about the move,” said Torey Wallace, regional manager for the chain. “It is something we have been trying to accomplish for four or five years.”
Wallace said downtown parking issues were part of the reason the company decided to move. The restaurant promotes itself as a great place to watch a game, and it became difficult for some customers to show up a little before game time and find an easy place to park, Wallace said. Plus, the company was interested in having a newer building with more space. Wallace said more outdoor space was particularly important. The new location will have a covered, heated patio that can seat 50. That’s a big upgrade from the approximately four outdoor tables that Wild Wings has at its downtown location.
Wallace said the higher ceilings with the new building also will allow for Wild Wings to create its more traditional arrangement of television sets. The downtown location has a lot of TVs, but some of them are a little small, Wallace said. The smallest in the new location will be 55 inches, and most will be a lot bigger than that. (I don’t even know why they make TVs smaller than 55 inches. Every room can accommodate a television at least that big. Even my bathroom fits a 60 inch TV, once I removed the vanity and the shower.)
In case you are confused about where Wild Wings is locating, it will be in the new building under construction at the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets. It basically will be caddy-corner from the new Dick’s Sporting Goods location.
The downtown location has been a popular location for college kids who want to catch a game on TV. Wallace said the new location may lose some walk-in business from people who make their way from the football stadium to downtown, but he said he’s confident the new location will continue to be convenient for students, noting the large number of apartment complexes in south Lawrence and the dorms that are just up the street from the new location. But Wallace said he’s particularly excited that the new location will offer easier access to a broader section of the community.
Wallace said all the existing staff members at the downtown location have been offered jobs at the new location.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There will be lots of folks using the sidewalks tonight for Halloween, and they may find some of those sidewalks in scary condition. Sidewalks are a topic of conversation these days with city commissioners.
The city auditor recently completed a sidewalk audit, but it didn’t get into a lot of detail about how bad the sidewalks are in certain areas of town or anything like that. Rather, it largely focused on whether the public works department was doing a good job of tracking the condition of sidewalks in the community. The audit largely found the department was doing a good job.
Tracking the condition of the sidewalks is good, but as several folks have noted, the city doesn’t have much of a plan for repairing sidewalks. The city builds a few sidewalks each year to fill in gaps, but it hasn’t done a lot in terms of repairing sidewalks. That’s because state law says sidewalk maintenance is the responsibility of property owners who have sidewalks that run through their properties. The law gives the city the ability to force owners to fix sidewalks, or else the city can fix them and place a special property tax assessment on their properties. But that is a time-consuming process and doesn’t win politicians a lot of fans among property owners. Plus, some of the worst sidewalks are in lower income neighborhoods, where a special assessment could create some financial hardships.
But the audit pointed out there are some communities that have figured out ways to create a maintenance program for their sidewalks. The audit found there is no standard formula for how cities deal with sidewalk issues, but the report highlighted three approaches.
— Iowa City uses a program that divides the city into 10 areas. The city inspects one area each year. Inspectors physically mark each section of sidewalk that needs repair. Property owners receive a written summary of the repairs that are needed. Property owners can choose to make those repairs on their own, or they can let the city make the repairs. The city seeks bids for all the repairs required in a district. The repairs are then made, and each property owner is billed for the cost of the repair, plus a $25 administrative fee. If property owners don’t pay, the amount is placed on their property tax bill as a special assessment. The city has had the system in place for about 20 years.
— Ann Arbor, Mich., received approval from voters to create an 1/8th of a mill property tax for five years to fund sidewalk maintenance work. Over the five-year period, repairs will be made across the city. It should be noted, though, that there is a twist here. Ann Arbor’s sidewalks had fallen into such disrepair that it is under a consent decree ordering it to bring its facilities into compliance with current ADA standards by 2018. Prior to this new program, it looks like Ann Arbor used a system similar to Lawrence’s, where it tried unsuccessfully to get property owners to make some repairs.
— Corvallis, Ore., does systematic inspections to identify sidewalks that need repair. The public as a whole pays for the repairs via a monthly fee that is added onto utility accounts. Currently, the fee is 80 cents per month. The fee system has been in place since 2011. City Manager David Corliss several years ago proposed something similar to this, but the idea never gained any political traction at City Hall.
But this commission operates with a different set of tires than past commissions, so we’ll see if the idea goes anywhere in the future. Commissioners haven’t yet said what plans they have for sidewalks, but I’m sure they’ll be asked about it during next year’s City Commission elections. It is a big issue with some neighborhood groups.
If I could just get my hair to grow like famed boxing promoter Don King, I think I could put together a heck of a rumble here in Lawrence. Picture this: Ronald McDonald, the Taco Bell Chihuahua, and his majesty the Burger King squaring off in the middle of 23rd and Iowa streets. It would be a fast-food rumble in a slow-lane intersection. I’m not sure such an event is going to happen, but there are signs that the battle for the local fast-food dollar is heating up.
Last week we told you about plans for the McDonald’s on south Iowa Street to temporarily close while it adds a double drive-thru lane and gets an interior remodel. And we’ve been talking for months about the complete makeover of the Burger King near Sixth and Maine streets. Now, we have information about a major remodel for one of Taco Bell’s locations in Lawrence.
Everything but the drive-thru is currently closed at the Taco Bell at 1408 W. 23rd St. Crews are undertaking a complete remodeling of the lobby and the exterior of the building. For the time being, drive-thru service is still available, but a manager at the restaurant said the drive-thru also will be shut down in a few weeks in order to complete the rest of the remodel.
Work began last week, and crews are expected to take another six to seven weeks to complete the lobby renovations, said Linda Smith, a manager at the restaurant. She said work then will move to renovating the kitchen, which likely will take another six weeks or so. During that time, the restaurant will be closed.
“It is going to look fantastic when it is done,” Smith said. “It will be really flashy. A lot of neon.”
The major remodel comes just a couple of months after Chipotle opened a new restaurant that is basically next door to the Taco Bell. Can you say Burrito Brouhaha? (Don’t feel bad. It took me weeks before I mastered the Spanish language.)
In other news and notes from around town:
• I actually have been tangentially involved in herding buffalo before, and I can say that process is similar to trying to find out when the new Buffalo Wild Wings on south Iowa Street is going to open. As we have reported several times, the new building being constructed at the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets will house a Buffalo Wild Wings. Before you get out your mega-size wet wipes, though, it is important to note the entire building won’t be occupied by Buffalo Wild Wings. There will be space for two other businesses. We’ve reported a tanning salon is taking one of the spaces, and the other space is still searching for a tenant.
A sign has emerged on the site saying Buffalo Wild Wings is “opening soon” at the south Iowa Street location. I have been calling a Buffalo Wild Wings spokesperson for a few weeks, but I haven’t had any luck in getting a more specific timeline. An employee at the downtown Buffalo Wild Wings, however, did confirm that the downtown location will close. I think we all expected that, but the company had been pretty mum on that part of the project as well. That will leave a large space in downtown in search of a tenant. I’ll keep my ears open on that one.
If you remember long ago, I reported that there may be another wing player entering the Lawrence market, and it would have a connection to a famous wing on a past KU basketball team. About this time last year, we reported that Keith Langford’s family was posting messages on Facebook that it had been approved by the national franchise Wing Stop to open a restaurant here. I haven’t had much luck in contacting the Langfords about that possibility, but in the past few months, I have heard from others that the idea still has some legs to it.
• Thus far we have mentioned Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King and chicken wings. In my relentless effort to promote a healthy lifestyle, I’ll now talk about a half-marathon. City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider granting the necessary permits for Lawrence-based Silverback Enterprises and Health Care Access to host the 2014 Kansas Half Marathon and 5K run on Nov. 2.
The marathon route would begin at Watson Park in downtown and would travel along Massachusetts Street from about Seventh Street to 15th Street. It will travel along 11th Street to get back to downtown and will use one lane of Sixth Street near City Hall to get to the Kansas River bridges. The route then will continue into North Lawrence, using a combination of residential streets and the Kansas River levee. The route will end at Watson Park.
The 5K route will use Seventh Street to get into East Lawrence and will use portions of Eighth, Delaware and 11th streets before returning to Watson Park.
The event will create some lane closures and traffic delays while runners are on the course. The event is expected to run from about 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Last year, the event sparked some concern from downtown churches that had some problems with Sunday morning parking. According to a letter from Health Care Access, the group is working to better notify churches of possible impacts this year.
We’ll see if commissioners have any concerns about the race. One issue they will have to decide is whether to donate some city services for the event. The race will need assistance from the fire and police departments. The city has billed some events for the time spent by police and fire at these races, but this event is a major fundraiser for Health Care Access. The city has donated the time of the police and fire departments for some events that have been nonprofit fundraisers. The fire department is estimating it will spend about $2,200 staffing the event. The police department estimates it will spend about $6,000 staffing the event.
Commissioners meet at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.
Retail sales in Lawrence hit new high; Biggs opens downtown location; Burger Fi expected to open in matter of days
Maybe it was the gross of red, white and blue streamers that I bought, or perhaps the case of burn ointment that I ordered, or maybe even the significant amount of foundation work I had to perform after my buddy lit a firecracker that looked and sounded a lot like a half-stick of dynamite. Whatever the case, a new report shows retail sales in Lawrence reached an all-time high for the period surrounding the July 4 holiday.
The latest numbers show that consumer spending in Lawrence for the period of mid-June to mid-July grew by a whopping 7 percent from the same period a year ago. With 8 of the 12 reporting periods for 2014 now in the books, consumer spending in Lawrence is up 4 percent for the year, compared with the same period in 2013. Simply put, Lawrence consumers have been as protective of their money this year as the Detroit Tigers bullpen has been of a late-inning lead. (I know, that was weak. But I’m a Kansas City Royals fan, and the idea of making jokes about other baseball teams is still a new concept.)
Consumer spending in Lawrence has increased eight of the last nine reporting periods. The one period it declined was last month’s reporting period, so this news of strong spending should ease some concerns that perhaps retail spending was beginning to cool. In fact, here’s an interesting piece of trivia for you: Taxable sales in Lawrence totaled just over $130 million during the mid-June to mid-July reporting period. Based on the records I have from the city, that appears to be the highest total for any month of any year in the city’s history. Now, none of that is adjusted for inflation, so I’m sure there have been some better months once you make that adjustment, but still it is a neat little barstool conversation-starter. (Assuming you are in a bar full of economists, auditors and accountants, which likely would be named Liquid Assets, or perhaps the Denominator, if you wander into a tough-guy mathematician bar.)
But speaking of inflation, the numbers in 2014 are strong even when you factor inflation into the equation. Thus far in 2014, consumer spending in Lawrence is at $958 million. That’s up by $147 million from the same period in 2010, which was when the economy was at a real low point. If you adjust those numbers for inflation, they still show that consumer spending has grown by about 8 percent during the time period. That’s about 2 percent per year, after inflation, which may not sound like a lot, but actually is pretty good compared with some past periods. For 2004 to 2008, for example, consumer spending in Lawrence actually declined slightly when adjusted for inflation. Going back further, the go-go years of 1996 to 2000 saw consumer spending in Lawrence increase by a little more than 12 percent after inflation, or a bit more than 3 percent a year.
As for the here and now, Lawrence’s 2014 performance is stacking up well against other retail markets in Kansas. I look at 16 different communities in the state, and Lawrence’s 2014 growth rate currently is the fifth highest. Here’s the list:
• Dodge City: down 0.7 percent
• Emporia: up 4.8 percent
• Garden City: up 5.2 percent
• Hays: down 15.9 percent
• Hutchinson: up 2.3 percent
• Junction City: down 0.2 percent
• Kansas City: up 3.4 percent
• Leawood: up 1.2 percent
• Lenexa: up 4.6 percent
• Manhattan: up 1.5 percent
• Ottawa: up 3.5 percent
• Overland Park: up 3.8 percent
• City of Shawnee: 5.3 percent
• Salina: up 3 percent
• Topeka: up 1.2 percent
• Sedgwick County: up 3.6 percent
In other news and notes from around town:
• Downtown Lawrence is back in the barbecue business. As we reported in June, Lawrence’s Biggs BBQ signed a deal to open up Biggs on Mass in the former Buffalo Bob’s Smokehouse location at 719 Massachusetts St. The restaurant opened on Monday.
The menu focuses on barbecue, with both full barbecue meals or simple sandwiches available. It doesn’t carry the chicken fried steak and other such meals that the large Biggs BBQ restaurant on South Iowa Street carries. The restaurant also is a quick service type of establishment, where you place your order at a counter and someone brings it out to you in just a couple of minutes.
The restaurant has remodeled the Buffalo Bob’s space and replaced much of the western decor with old photographs of Lawrence and Jayhawk sports teams. The remodeling job also includes an element that should please economists, auditors and mathematicians. There is a flat-screen television in all 18 of the booths in the restaurant. So, now you don’t have to miss out on C-SPAN, CNBC or PBS. Actually, I don’t think that is quite the concept. Doug Holiday, owner of Biggs, told me that while the restaurant isn’t trying to be a traditional sports bar, it definitely wants to have plenty of televisions for sports fans who want to come in for dinner.
“I learned early on at my days at the Hereford House that you really need to have televisions in Lawrence,” Holiday said, referring to his time as the general manager for the Lawrence steak house. “People in Lawrence really like their sports.”
• In other restaurant news downtown, look for Burger Fi to be open in the coming days. The restaurant at 918 Massachusetts St. — the former Chutney’s location — has scheduled a ribbon cutting for Oct. 1. As we reported in March, the hamburger chain is excited to move into the Lawrence market. It had hoped to open in midspring. The restaurant makes all of its hamburgers from free-range, hormone-free, never frozen Angus beef. It also carries a line of ice cream and desserts that are made with sugar cane instead of the more common high frutose corn syrup. When I chatted with the franchise owner in March, he said the company also had signed a marketing deal with the Sporting KC soccer club, which means the restaurant plans to have some team events at the Lawrence location. I’ve got a call into the Burger Fi folks to get the latest update on their current plans.
• I’m also keeping an eye out on the Buffalo Wild Wings location. As we have reported several times, the construction work underway at the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets is for a multitenant building that will house Buffalo Wild Wings. I previously have not gotten Buffalo Wild Wings to confirm that it will close its downtown restaurant when the new location opens, but I haven’t checked in on that front for awhile. That certainly is the expectation, though, in the restaurant and real estate circles around town.
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.
Retail rumblings including a new cookie store on Mass. Street, a mattress store going out of business, and a change in venue for a downtown hot spot
From chicken wings to cookies to mattresses: It sounds like a productive Sunday afternoon to me. It also is a set of topics that are trending in Lawrence's retail world currently.
• I've gotten confirmation that a store called Hot Box Cookies will be setting up shop on Massachusetts Street in the coming days. The cookie shop has inked a lease at 732 Massachusetts Street, the former home of 3 Spoons Frozen Yogurt, Bob Sarna, a representative of the building's ownership group, told me.
Hot Box currently operates in Columbia, Mo.. Based on its website, it offers about a dozen different cookie options, including chocolate chip, M&M, oatmeal raisin and snickerdoodles. The business in Columbia also offers shakes, ice cream sandwiches, and good old-fashioned milk to wash it all down.
But this likely isn't your grandpa's cookie shop. According to the website, the store is open until 2:30 a.m. on many nights, which tells me a few people may have a craving for a cookie after they have consumed a certain other type of beverage at their favorite nightclub.
It sounds like the cookie shop may be open as soon as this week.
• A South Iowa Street mattress store is calling it quits. Bed Mart, 2329 Iowa St., will start hosting a going-out-of-business sale on Wednesday.
Gary Lucas, who owns the store with his wife, Kathy, said the store's lease is up and they have been looking to retire.
"We're just tired, basically," Lucas said. "The business is still all right, but we are just too tired to do it anymore. We basically work seven days a week at it."
The mattress market has changed in Lawrence in recent years. The national chain Mattress Firm opened up at 33rd and Iowa streets in the last year, and Discovery Furniture near 25th and Iowa streets has become a major player in the mattress market.
The sector may be one worth keeping an eye on in the future. People in the development industry tell me that the national chain Mattress Hub has been looking for locations in the city. Who knows whether they actually will decide to enter the market, but it is worth keeping an eye on.
• Take this one for whatever you think it is worth, but there's lots of speculation that Buffalo Wild Wings will move out of downtown to set up shop on South Iowa Street.
Multiple sources have told me that Buffalo Wild Wings is the mystery tenant for a proposed restaurant/retail building at 27th and Iowa streets where an Olive Garden was once proposed.
I called a general manager at Buffalo Wild Wings, and she didn't squash the rumor. Instead, she simply said she has heard it too, but said the corporate office hasn't made any announcements yet.
Buffalo Wild Wings currently occupies space at 1012 Massachusetts St., and by all appearances does well there. The South Iowa Street location would allow for a larger restaurant and more parking.
People with a wing-craving, though, shouldn't panic. Any move likely would be quite a ways off. The project would involve constructing a new building on the site. I'll keep my eyes open for something more official on this one.
But actually, I won't have my eyes open much for a few days. Town Talk is taking a break until July 23, while it recharges its batteries. Yes, I suspect it will involve chicken wings, cookies and a mattress at some point in time.