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KC’s Port Fonda is looking for Lawrence location; home building numbers down; report shows size of local apartment boom

I haven't dusted off my special sombrero yet — just my ordinary one — but I have gotten word that one of Kansas City's hipper Mexican restaurants is seriously considering a Lawrence expansion.

I know some of you have heard rumors that Kansas City's Port Fonda is going to open a location in Lawrence soon. Well, that information is a bit like when you get salsa all over your chin: You're a bit off, but you are in the right neighborhood.

Jamie Davila, a co-owner of Port Fonda, told me the company hasn't yet signed a deal for a Lawrence location, but has looked at about four spots so far.

"We have been flirting in Lawrence, but there is nothing to go on as of yet," said Davila. "But we are definitely flirting in a serious way about it."

Davila said he expects the company to make a decision on its Lawrence future in the next month.

For those of you not familiar with Port Fonda, it has become a favorite for some of the Westport crowd. Patrick Ryan, the other co-owner of the business, started in a food truck in Kansas City and then transitioned to a full-scale restaurant about two years ago.

"I would describe it like Mexican street food with polish," Davila said.

A quick look at Port Fonda's menu gives you an idea that involves being creative with ingredients. For example, the restaurant's beef tacos come with all the normal ingredients such as cilantro, onion and lime. But it also includes fried potatoes, green olives and raisins. Other dishes feature ingredients such as cabbage, radishes, fried avocado, and a sandwich that has a combination that allows cardiologists to dream of bigger beach homes: pork belly and bacon on a single sandwich.

At the moment, though, I would continue to file all of this under the category of a development to keep an eye on. Lots of restaurants take a look at Lawrence for an expansion, but do not ever make the move. But I wanted to pass this one along because I had heard a decent amount of discussion on the street about it.

Plus, I really do love wearing that sombrero.

In other news and notes from around town:

• The latest numbers from City Hall show that local homebuilders have slowed down just a bit in 2014. There have been 42 building permits issued for single-family and duplex projects through April. That's down from 59 during the same time period a year ago. Single-family home numbers have been on the rise for the past two years in Lawrence, but builders will have some work to do if they want to stretch that to a three-year streak. But it is worth noting that 2014 numbers, so far, are still tracking ahead of 2012 and 2011 numbers.

The total value of construction projects underway in Lawrence is way down compared to a year ago. The city thus far hasn't seen the large projects like the downtown hotel or the Rock Chalk Park facilities that pushed totals up to near highs in 2013. Through April, the city has issued permits for $25.7 million worth of projects. That's down from the $54.8 million issued at the same time a year ago. This year's total of $25.7 million ranks fifth out of the last six years.

• One noteworthy building permit trend is that the city hasn't issued any permits for new apartment construction this year. The city put out a new report that looks more deeply into building permit trends, and it shows just how rare that is. The report produced a statistic that shows just how prevalent apartment construction has become in Lawrence. It found that 2013 was the seventh consecutive year that the number of new apartment units built in the city exceeded the number of single-family and duplex units constructed.

Not to be overdramatic, but that's a contender for stat of the year. That's the type of trend that will change a city in a lot of ways. If plans for a new apartment building near Memorial Stadium move forward, that trend may well continue in 2014.

The report also compared Lawrence to 10 other area communities. In general, Lawrence fared OK in that comparison. The city's housing rebound seems to be in the middle of the pack or slightly above.

But there was one area that seemed curious. Lawrence has the fourth-largest population of the 11 communities studied. But the number of commercial building permits — permits for new business construction — ranked eighth on the list. Only Emporia, Baldwin City and Eudora ranked below Lawrence. Smaller communities such as Manhattan, Lenexa, Salina, and even unincorporated Douglas County ranked ahead of Lawrence.

You can read the full report here.

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  • Reply 1 comment from Terrylee Richard Andrade

    Cold winter has city builders off to slow start; Corpus Christi begins $2 million expansion

    Maybe their hammers were still thawing out from January, or maybe they were just too busy building a full-size, chocolate sculpture of Johnny Depp for Valentine's Day. (We all had to do that, right?) Whatever the reason, Lawrence home builders slowed down the pace a bit in February, according to the latest report from City Hall.

    Lawrence officials issued just five new permits for single family homes in February, which is the lowest February total in at least the past five years. The five-year average has been 10 new permits. For all of 2014, the city has issued 14 permits for single family and duplex construction, which is the lowest level since 2011.

    January and February aren't usually critical months for the the Lawrence construction industry. so these lagging numbers aren't any reason for concern yet. But it will be interesting to watch whether the city's home building industry can post its third straight year of increased single family home construction. In 2013, builders started 155 new single family homes. That was up from 123 in 2012 and from the low point of 2011, when only 95 new homes were started in the city.

    Other construction projects in the city also have gotten off to a slower start. City officials have issued permits for $9.6 million worth of projects. That's down from $22.7 million worth of projects started by this time last year. The biggest difference has been that apartment construction in the city has taken a pause. Last year at this time, the city had 286 apartment units under construction, which added more than $10 million to the construction totals. Thus far, no new apartment projects have been started in the city in 2014.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • The largest construction project started thus far in 2014 is a major addition at the Corpus Christi Catholic School, 6001 Bob Billings Parkway. City officials have issued a permit for $2.3 million worth of construction work at the West Lawrence school and church.

    School principal Mary Mattern told me the project will include three additional classrooms, a multimedia library and technology area, a two-story music space and new offices for administration and teacher work areas. The space will be used both by the school and the church for religious classes and parish activities.

    The school serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, and enrollment has been growing. Mattern said the school has averaged an 8 percent enrollment growth each of the past five years. Enrollment now stands at a little more than 300 students.

    The construction project is expected to be completed by the beginning of the next school year.

    • While we're on the subject of building permits, the city has released information from its annual audit of its building inspections division. The new report found that building inspection fees aren't quite covering the full cost of the service the city provides. In other words, general taxpayers are subsidizing the building inspection division to a degree.

    The division's revenue for 2013 was about 4 percent less than its expenses, which checked in at about $890,000. So, general taxpayers covered about $36,000 of the department's expenses. Builders, through fees paid for permits and licenses, covered the other 96 percent of the expenses. City officials strive to have the program paid for through fees as much as possible. And the city's building community keeps a close eye on the division's finances to ensure that the fees they pay aren't exceeding the actual expenses. City officials said the 2013 totals show there is a rough balance between the two, and are not recommending any fee increases for the department in 2014.

    The report does note that there were 45 projects in the city — mainly affordable housing projects or government projects — that were not required to pay a fee. Those projects had $108,000 worth of fees waived.

    The report, however, did not note the amount of fees being waived by the city as part of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex in northwest Lawrence. As part of the incentive package approved by the City Commission, the Lawrence-based private development firm Bliss Sports is getting a full rebate of all of its building permit fees.

    I checked with the city about that amount. Officials tell me the city either has or is in the process of rebating about $65,000 in building permit fees as part of the Rock Chalk Park project. Those $65,000 in fees, however, are counted as revenue in the annual report because technically the city is rebating the fees through the issuing of an "economic development grant," which is separate from the building inspection division's budget.

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  • Reply 4 comments from Merrill Terrylee

    Real estate sales, home building off to decent start in 2014; new numbers about county’s housing values, tax base released

    Perhaps you are like me, and this winter weather has you in the market for a very specific type of home: one with a heated driveway and sidewalks. (Or I would even settle for one equipped with a 10-year old son who doesn't feel faint at the sight of a snow shovel.)

    I'm not sure any of those types of homes have sold recently, but the latest series of real estate and building reports indicate that 2014 got off to a decent start for home builders and real estate agents.

    Here's a look at a few reports:

    • Although January is one of the slower months for local real estate agents, home sales increased by a little more than 10 percent, compared with January 2013 totals, according to a new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. Home sales totaled 41 for the month, including five sales for newly constructed homes. The most important number of the report, however, may be the number of homes on the market. Active listings in Lawrence are down 320 homes, which is a decline from 380 in January 2013 and 460 from January 2012. That's a positive sign for the market. More homes are selling, but if the number of listings doesn't move upward, look for prices to rise.

    • Lawrence home builders took out permits for nine new homes in January, compared with eight in January 2013. January obviously isn't a big month for starting new home construction, but, for what it is worth, the nine is the highest January total in at least the last five years. The five-year average for January home starts is 5.4 new homes. (Rumor has it, the guy who lived in the 0.4 of a home, spent all his money on heated sidewalks.)

    • When it comes to numbers, the one homeowners usually care most about should be arriving in the mailbox at any moment. The Douglas County Appraiser's Office sent out change of value notices on Friday. The notices tell homeowners how much the appraiser's office thinks their property is worth. That number, of course, is key in determining how much a homeowner pays in property taxes. I haven't yet got an update from the appraiser on what most homeowners should expect. When I get that information, I'll pass it along. But his most recent report did include some other interesting numbers:

    — The total value of real estate in Douglas County is on the rise. Total assessed valuation — that's the taxable value, not the fair market value — was $1.04 billion dollars on Jan. 1. That's up 2.2 percent from Jan. 1, 2013. Appraiser Steve Miles said most of the increase was due to new construction and an increase in the value of agricultural land in the county. If that number holds — it generally goes down a bit as people appeal their tax values — it will be good news for local governments who use the tax base to help build their budgets.

    — The median value of all residential property in the county — excluding big apartment complexes — was $161,700 in 2014. That's up 2.9 percent from the $157,000 median in 2013. The median value had declined in 2013, 2012 and 2009. The report shows that median values still have a ways to climb before they reach the levels seen during the housing boom. In 2008, the median value of residential property in the county was $164,900.

    — The report provides a median residential value for each of the four communities in the county, plus the rural area. Those values: Baldwin City, $140,000, up 5.5 percent; Eudora, $137,900, up 9 percent; Lecompton, up $109,860, up 30.8 percent; Lawrence, $160,200, up 0.3 percent; $199,800, up 30.2 percent.

    — Housing, of course, is just one part of the county's real estate tax base. Commercial real estate, agricultural land and a few other miscellaneous categories also make up the tax base. But residential property is certainly the giant among the bunch, which has been a bit of a concern to economic development leaders for a long time. The idea is that commercial real estate produces more jobs and pays a higher tax rate. So, having more commercial, job-producing real estate in the community has been a goal.

    Well, I've done some figuring. (It wasn't pretty. Those were really big numbers, so I had to call on my neighbors to take off their shoes as well.) Regardless, here's a look: In 2014, residential property made up 68.5 percent of the tax base compared with 68.1 percent in 2013. Commercial real estate made up 25.6 percent in 2014 compared with 25.7 percent in 2013. So, we didn't go in the right direction.

    Just for fun, I also went back to 2004 to see how the numbers have changed. In 2004, residential made up 67 percent of the tax base and commercial made up 25.9 percent. These really are big numbers, so you shouldn't expect big swings. But it is telling that for an entire decade we lost ground on the goal of strengthening our commercial tax base.

    In other news around town:

    • Maybe all these numbers have made you want to be a renter. If so, you might have some questions about the city's proposed rental licensing and inspection program. Whether you are a renter, a landlord or just an interested resident, we want your questions about the program. City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer will participate in an online chat at 11 a.m. Thursday. Click here to submit some questions in advance.

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    More than $30 million in public projects push local construction industry to banner year in 2013; Mass. Street gets recognized by Country Living magazine

    The idea of a new federal stimulus program got nowhere in 2013 in Washington, D.C., but the concept was alive and well when it came to the Lawrence construction scene.

    At least that's one way to read the year-end numbers for the city's building industry. The city's construction industry had both a bounce-back year and an unusual year. The latest report out of City Hall shows $171.9 million worth of new construction projects were started in Lawrence in 2013, easily shattering any marks set over the past five years.

    But the report also notes $30.5 million of the projects were government funded. In other words, nearly 18 percent of all the projects in the city were funded by the public sector. The city has only starting keeping track of public vs. private sector projects in the past few years. So I don't have a lot of data to compare these numbers to. But compared to the average of the previous two years, the amount of public sector construction has grown by about 230 percent.

    And if you wanted to argue over Rock Chalk Park — now there is a phrase that is both cocked and loaded — you could debate that the public sector numbers are much higher. The largest construction project in the city was the $31 million in permits issued for what is commonly referred to as the KU portion of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex — i.e., the track, softball and soccer fields and facilities. For building permit purposes, the city is counting that as a private-sector project. That is fair because the project is being financed privately by a group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel, and that group will own the facilities. As we've reported, KU merely will lease the facilities.

    But in almost every other way, the city has treated the project like a public project. For example, the city has agreed to give the privately-owned facilities a 100 percent tax abatement and a rebate on building permit fees accrued by the project. Normally, only public construction projects get such tax and fee breaks, but commissioners at the time of approval contended the Rock Chalk Park complex was essentially a de facto public project since KU would be it main user.

    So, if you treat Rock Chalk Park as a public project, the amount of public sector construction in the community grows to $61.5 million, or about 35 percent of all construction that took place in the city. (Well, construction of buildings. These numbers don't include road construction or utility construction, nor do they include most of the construction KU does on its campus.)

    This year may be the beginning of a trend. Don't forget that the school district still has lots of construction work to do as part of its $90-plus million bond project approved by voters, and the city will spend tens of millions of dollars in coming years to build a new sewer plant south of the Wakarusa River.

    Now, please, don't mistake my pointing out these numbers as my making a judgment about them. Certainly, all the public projects went through a public process to win approval. Some went before the voters — like the expansion of the library — while others — like Rock Chalk Park — were simply approved by the City Commission. And all of them were approved for reasons that went well beyond providing the local construction industry a boost. But it does seem worth noting how much of a boost the public coffers have given the industry this year.

    And to a degree, a lot of this is pretty subjective. The Marriott TownPlace Hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire was the second largest building project in the city with $13.8 million in permits issued in 2013. It is counted as a private project, but it is receiving a variety of public tax incentives. So, determining where private ends and public begins can be a bit difficult in today's environment.

    Here are some other figures from the year-end report:

    — The $171.9 million worth of projects is up from $100.6 million in 2012, $115.7 million in 2011, $101.8 million in 2010 and $75.3 million in 2009. I haven't had time to fully research it, but the $171.9 million may be the highest total in more than a decade, although to be fair the numbers should be adjusted for inflation.

    — As we have been reporting all year, single-family home construction had its second bounce-back year in a row. The city issued 165 permits for single-family and duplex homes. That's up from 126 in 2012 and 99 in 2011. The numbers are still off the 300 homes that were being built per year during the real estate boom, but at least the 200 level is within sight, and that would be a significant milestone in the industry's recovery.

    — Construction of new apartments was through the roof in 2013. The city issued permits for 374 living units. That's up from 184 units in 2012. The mark also surpassed the previous five-year high of 363 units in 2011. In case you want to keep track, the community since the end of 2008 has added 1,313 apartment units compared to 672 single family or duplex units.

    — Here's a look at the 12 projects that received more than $1 million worth of building permits in 2013: 1. Rock Chalk Park (the non-city portion): $31 million 2. Marriott Town Place Hotel, 900 New Hampshire: $13.8 million 3. Apartment complexes near Sixth and Congressional: $13 million 4. City recreation center at Rock Chalk Park: $10.5 million 5. Lawrence Public Library addition: $9.9 million 6. Bioscience and Technology Incubator expansion: $6.6 million 7. Camson South Apartments, 525 Congressional Way: $5.5 million 8. Hallmark Cards manufacturing plant renovation: $4.5 million 9. Dick's Sporting Goods, 2727 Iowa: $3 million 10. Neuvant House of Lawrence, 1216 Biltmore: $2.5 million 11. Dillons Food Store renovation: 3000 W. Sixth Street: $1.2 million 12. Discount Tire, 4741 Bauer Farm: $1 million

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • My Shirley Temple dimples may not be in full form today, but I guess I can be cute in another way: I can take a stroll down Massachusetts Street. The downtown drag recently has gotten a dose of national publicity by being named the "Cutest Small-Town Street in Kansas" by Country Living magazine. The short article about downtown Lawrence mentioned several businesses as hot spots, including The Toy Store, Sarah's Fabrics, Sylas and Maddy's, Mass Street Sweet Shop, and Liberty Hall.

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  • Reply 9 comments from Ginny Hedges Keith Richards Clark Coan Joseph Jarvis Bob Zimmerman Merrill

    East Lawrence’s Sunrise Garden Center set to close doors; Lawrence home building up nearly 30 percent for year

    The sun is setting on the longtime East Lawrence business Sunrise Garden Center.

    Owner Greg McDonald told me that the business' last day of operation is planned to be Christmas Eve. As we reported in June, McDonald put the business and its 3.5 acres at 15th and New York streets up for sale.

    A buyer hasn't yet been found for the site, but McDonald said having a business up for sale and trying to continue to operate it is difficult, especially for a garden center that must start growing some of its inventory well before it is ready for sale.

    McDonald said he knows one rumor that is floating around town is that the corner property will be converted into an apartment complex. He said that's not in the plans.

    "This is a single family area," McDonald said. "I don't think that will be happening."

    McDonald has owned the business for the past 14 years, but the location has served as a nursery since the 1920s, he said. Longtime florist Jim Owens operated it for many years, and early on it served as the nursery that supplied flowers to local shops, long before flowers were routinely flown or trucked in from other locations. (The business also has a long history as Pence's Garden Center.)

    McDonald said he still thinks the best use for the property is as a greenhouse. He said if a new owner doesn't want to operate it as a retail center, the size of the greenhouse — there is about a football field under glass — makes it viable for other types of growing operations.

    "I think it could make a very good incubator location for local, urban farmers," McDonald said. "I think it would work well for somebody who wanted to gain contracts growing local produce for area restaurants and markets. But I haven't had that person walk through the door yet."

    Veteran commercial real estate agent Doug Brown of McGrew Commercial Real Estate is marketing the property. McDonald said the asking price has been reduced to $725,000.

    McDonald said he's selling the business because he wants more time to pursue other interests. The business employs anywhere from about nine to 24 people, depending on the season. McDonald said there are mixed emotions about the decision to close.

    "If I had a quarter for every person who told me they were sad that we were closing, it would be enough to make a mortgage payment," McDonald said.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • A business on the upswing in Lawrence is homebuilding. While it is still not booming, the latest report from City Hall continues to show it is rebounding.

    Lawrence builders pulled permits for 20 new homes in November, making it the second busiest month of the year for single-family construction.

    For the year, Lawrence builders have been issued permits for 156 single family or duplex units. That's up nearly 29 percent from the same period a year ago. The 156 total is the highest in at least the last five years.

    The really big numbers in the Lawrence construction world, however, have come on the commercial and apartment side of the industry. The city has issued permits for 374 new apartment units, also a five-year high. Many of those apartment projects have run in the tens of millions of dollars, which has helped push the total value of construction projects in the city to a new five-year high as well. The city has issued permits for $163.3 million worth of projects thus far in 2013. That's up 77 percent from the same period a year ago. It also well surpasses the previous five-year high of $108.5 million, which was set in 2011.

    As a reminder, some of the big projects of the past year have included about $41 million at Rock Chalk Park and the city's recreation center, $13.8 million for a downtown hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire, $13 million for apartments near Sixth and Congressional Drive, and $10 million for the expansion of the Lawrence Public Library.

    • I'm going to have to fire my agent. (Actually, I'm going to have to find an agent, so I can then fire him. But you get the point.) Apparently a production company was in Lawrence earlier this year to shoot a pilot episode for a new television series. And somehow I didn't receive a casting call. Well, now there is word that the program has been picked up by MTV, and the Lawrence episode will air sometime in March 2014.

    Patti McCormick, a former Los Angeles television producer who now is a Lawrence marketing executive, is my source on this. She said she helped the production company find a filming location in Lawrence this summer. The spot ended up being at the private residence of Thomas and Dru Fritzel. The production company was in search of a gazebo area to shoot, but all the gazebos in city parks were reserved on the day of the shoot, so the Fritzels provided an area that worked.

    McCormick said the crew also spent quite a bit of time taking shots of downtown Lawrence to work into the pilot episode. Other details about the show — I don't know if it is a reality program, drama, comedy or what — haven't been released. But McCormick said the production company told her the pilot episode includes several shots of Lawrence and that the city looks "amazing." I'll keep an ear open for more details as the air date gets closer.

    • I will be spending the next week or so preparing for my close up. In other words, Town Talk will be on hiatus for a few days. It will appear again after the New Year. Thank you all for your readership and tips over the past year. Best wishes to all of you for a safe and happy holiday season.

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  • Reply 2 comments from Beerguy Randall Uhrich Black7maker

    Lawrence single-family home construction up 35 percent from year ago totals

    For Lawrence homebuilders, the rest of 2013 is gravy, or the icing on the cake, or the cherry on top, or . . . (No, I've got to quit before I eat my keyboard.)

    The point is, with three months left in the year, Lawrence homebuilders already had built essentially the same number of houses as they did in all of 2012. The newest building report from Lawrence City Hall shows 122 single-family building permits had been issued through the end of September. For all of 2012, the city issued 123. Thus far, single-family home construction is up 35 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

    When you add in duplex construction, the city already has surpassed the 2012 totals. Thus far the city has issued permits for 7 new duplexes compared to just three for all of 2012.

    The big question now is whether construction totals will hit the $200 million mark for the year. That's a bit of a stretch goal, but with the latest permit the city has topped the $150 million mark. The city is at $153.4 million during the first nine months, which is up 103 percent for the same period a year ago.

    Credit massive projects like Rock Chalk Park, the city's recreation center and the Lawrence Public Library expansion for a good portion of the increase. About 24 percent of all the construction activity in the city, measured by permit value, has been publicly funded projects. Just for comparison's sake, during the same time period in 2011 about 9 percent of all construction in the city was publicly funded and about 5 percent in 2012.

    There have been some large private sector projects, though. The Marriott TownPlace Hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire is $13.8 million, the two apartment complexes west of Walmart on Sixth Street total about $17.5 million and renovation work to accommodate more production at the Hallmark Cards plant has totaled about $4.5 million.

    We'll see how 2013 finishes and what's in store for 2014. I was surprised to hear a projection recently from an economist at Wichita State University that Lawrence home-building totals would be stagnant or decline slightly in 2014. The economist with the WSU Center for Real Estate told the Lawrence Board of Realtors last week that he thinks the new home construction market may slow a bit because banks are still hesitant to provide financing for homes built on speculation. We'll see.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • There's a clear sign that at least one builder in town is expecting good things for the future. A-Team Home Improvement is investing in a new shop and headquarters space. Perhaps you have noticed a significant renovation underway at the old schoolhouse-looking building below the 23rd Street overpass across from Haskell Indian Nations University. A-Team Home Improvement has signed a lease to take over the 1,800-square-foot space at 506 E. 23rd St.

    Alan Rector, owner of A-Team, said business has been going well and he jumped at the chance to put his formerly home-based business in a more visible location. Plans call for a good part of the building to be devoted to showroom space for kitchen, bath and other renovation products. Rector hopes to have the project finished by the end of the month.

    The renovation project also is giving a bit of a facelift to one of the older buildings along 23rd Street. The building was a school decades ago. It was known as the India School.

    • The building is owned by a group led by longtime Lawrence landlord George Paley. Paley has projects all over town, but one that is drawing attention is his plans for the former La Parrilla space at 815 Massachusetts St. (La Parrilla moved up the block, if you recall.) Paley tells me plans are moving along to bring a new restaurant into the space, but he said he's still not at liberty to tell me who the operators will be or what style of restaurant is planned. What I have heard from reliable sources is that a local operator will be involved, but the speculation that the space will house a new venture by Lawrence restaurateur Robert Krause is inaccurate. Perhaps we won't have to wait too much longer to find out. Work is underway at the site.

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  • Reply 4 comments from Kingfisher Merrill Terrylee

    Lawrence home construction up 33 percent in first half of 2013

    The buzz you've been hearing around Lawrence perhaps has been the hum of a power saw or the steady pounding of a hammer.

    With half a year in the books, one of the emerging stories of the Lawrence economy is the solid year local builders are putting together. New numbers from City Hall show builders have started more single-family and duplex homes in 2013 than at any point since the recession. And when it comes to apartment construction, they're more than doubling their previous pace.

    Here's a quick look at totals through June for three key metrics.

    The total value of projects under construction in Lawrence through June is up 52 percent compared to the same period a year ago and up 94 percent compared to the low point of 2009.

    •   2013: $75.1 million
    •   2012: $49.3 million
    •   2011: $49.8 million
    •   2010: $47.6 million
    •   2009: $38.7 million
    

    Single family and duplex building permits are up 33 percent from the same time period a year ago and are up nearly 128 percent from their low point in 2009:

    •   2013: 87
    •   2012: 65
    •   2011: 59
    •   2010: 75
    •   2009: 38
    

    Apartment construction, which historically has been up and down, is going through a boom period. The number of apartment units under construction in the first half of 2013 is up 103 percent from the same time period a year ago:

    •   2013: 374
    •   2012: 184
    •   2011: 63
    •   2010: 0
    •   2009: 172
    

    I've already got my boots off, so let me do this math for you. If I've counted all my fingers and toes properly, the number of apartments built in the last five years has outnumbered the number of houses/duplexes built by 793 to 324.

    Since we're doing math, here's another interesting number: Lawrence's population as of July 1, 2012, was 89,512. As of July 1, 2008, it was 90,520. (Confession: I cheated and used Census Bureau figures here. My wife and kids wouldn't take their shoes off.) That's 1,008 fewer people, but during that time we've added 419 new apartment units and 237 new houses/duplexes. City officials, however, have taken exception to these Census Bureau population estimates because they think the city's population has been undercounted. The city contends that population has grown slightly during the time period.

    Either way, it sure seems that apartment construction, in particular, is outpacing the growth of new residents. If that's true, it would be interesting to see the vacancy rates of some of the older, less maintained apartment complexes in the city. It doesn't get much discussion at City Hall, but it is plausible to think that one of the larger issues of the next decade is how those old apartment complexes get redeveloped in the future.

    Whether you leave your shoes on or off, that is likely to involve some pretty complex ciphering.

    Reply 7 comments from Gccs14r David Holroyd Nick_s Catalano

    Lawrence home sales continue rise in 2013, builders begin to pick up pace on new construction

    Maybe 13 is a lucky number in this case. Lawrence home sales for the 13th month in a row have posted year-over-year gains, but the more striking fact is the improvement in almost every category real estate observers care about.

    According to the new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors, agents sold 102 Lawrence homes in April, a 45 percent increase over April 2012.

    In a departure from past months, even newly constructed homes sold well. Builders sold 13 new homes, compared to just four in April 2012. To put the number in perspective, Lawrence builders had sold only 13 homes in the previous three months of 2013 combined.

    The April numbers continue what has been a good start to 2013. For the year, 261 homes have been sold in Lawrence, up about 32 percent from 2012 totals and up 45 percent from same period in 2011. The number of newly built homes sold checks in at 26, up from 17 at this time in 2012 and 18 in 2011.

    Sales of newly built homes will be a number to really keep an eye on. New home construction has more potential to boost the Lawrence economy than people simply buying and selling existing homes. That’s obviously because new construction involves employing people to build and houses and develop neighborhoods.

    A couple of numbers that builders will keep an eye on are the number of days a house stays on the market before it sells, and the number of homes actively listed. Both numbers showed some bullish signs in the last month.

    The median days on market for a home is now at 66, down from 88 in April 2012. The number of homes on the market also has fallen to 419, down nearly 32 percent from the 613 listed in April 2012. The number of newly built homes on the market is at 29, down from 56 in April 2012 and from 63 in April 2011.

    As the market has picked up, there are signs that prices have too. The median selling price on homes in 2013 stands at $167,000, up 7.8 percent from the same period in 2012. It is always tough to gauge pricing trends just from this report, but at this time last year, the Lawrence real estate market was showing signs of a real price correction. Last year, at the end of April, the median home price was down about 10.2 percent.

    The new numbers certainly have put new bounce in the step of local real estate agents.

    “These recent statistics reflect a dramatic shift in our local market,” said John Esau, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors.

    Esau, in fact, went so far as to say he believe the market now has shifted from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market.

    We’ll see what May brings: Perhaps lucky 14.

    ••• There’s another report out that shows Lawrence home builders are slowly starting to ramp up their production. According to a new report from the city, 17 building permits were issued in April for single-family and duplex homes.

    That’s the highest April number in at least five years. For all of 2013, the city has issued 59 single-family and duplex permits, which is 20 more than it issued during the same time period in 2012.

    Other items from the April report include:

    • For the year, the city has issued permits for $54.8 million worth of projects, up 63 percent from the same period a year ago. The $54.8 million is by far the best showing of the last five years. The average since 2009 has been about $27.5 million worth of projects.

    • Apartment construction continues to be strong in Lawrence. The city has issued permits for 374 apartment units thus far in 2013. That’s the highest total of the last five years. Since 2009, the average has been about 105 units.

    • Apartment construction was a big part of the $19.8 million worth of permits issued in April. Camson South — one of two apartment projects just west of Wal-Mart on Sixth Street — pulled permits for a $5.5 million project that includes 88 apartments and a clubhouse. Other large projects include phase I of the Rock Chalk Park project, including construction of the track and field stadium. Lawrence-based DFC Company pulled $6 million in permits for that project. Discount Tire also pulled a $1 million permit for work on its new store at 4741 Bauer Farm Drive, just west of the new Starbucks in that area. Several of you have asked about the timeline for the new Discount Tire location, and I do have a call into the company. I’ll let you know when I hear more.

    Reply 5 comments from Sjgreen Ginny Hedges Madcow Ramp Kshiker Pwopellewcap

    Lawrence home builders have best first quarter since 2010, according to new report; Hallmark undertakes another $3.3 million in construction

    Shine that hammer and sharpen that saw. There are signs that the Lawrence homebuilding industry is getting busier.

    According to a new report released by City Hall, builders started 23 new single-family or duplex homes in Lawrence during March. That brings the total number of single-family and duplex permits to 42, which is the highest first-quarter total since 2010.

    For decades, single-family home construction has been the bread and butter of the Lawrence construction industry, and a major driver in the overall Lawrence economy. But the industry has hit hard times. In 2011, only 95 single family building permits were issued for the entire year, snapping a 55-year streak of the city issuing at least 100 new single-family building permits annually.

    Since then, the industry has been creeping back. But this latest report is the best sign yet that the industry is getting a new footing. The first-quarter single-family and duplex numbers are 40 percent higher than the 2012 first-quarter numbers and are double the 2011 first-quarter totals.

    The latest report also had strong numbers for several other parts of the local construction industry. Here’s a look at other figures from the March report:

    • The city issued permits for $12.1 million worth of projects in March, the highest March total since 2009.

    • For the year, the city has issued permits for $34.9 million worth of projects, the highest first-quarter total in the past five years.

    As we’ve previously reported, Hallmark Cards is moving all of its U.S. greeting card production to its Lawrence plant as part of a reorganization. That project is continuing to pay dividends for the local construction industry. Hallmark took out a $3.3 million building permit to make interior renovations to the plant. That’s in addition to $1.2 million worth of permits Hallmark already had received for the project earlier this year. If your abacus is a bit rusty, that means Hallmark now has undertaken $4.5 million worth of work at the plant during the first three months of the year.

    • The city didn’t issue any permits for new apartment construction in March, but for the first quarter, that sector has been busy. Through the first three months of the year, the city has issued permits for 286 apartment units, the highest first-quarter total of the past five years.

    Reply 5 comments from Merrill Workinghard Cabmando Kansasliberal

    Homes sales up in February; single-family building permits hold steady; weekly land transfers

    If you are like me and continue to set off crimson and blue confetti bombs in the TV room after every Jayhawk victory, you soon may be looking for a new house. So, how about some news and notes from the Lawrence real estate and building industry?

    • The city has February’s building permit report out, and the numbers continue to be a tale of two types of construction. Single-family home construction continues to be pretty stagnant, but there are builders staying busy with multifamily construction.

    The city issued 10 single-family building permits during the month. For the year, the city has issued 18, which is on pace with what the city did last year. (There were 19 issued during the first two months of 2012.) On the apartment front, though, the city issued permits for 22 new apartments in February, bringing the total number of units to 286. Apartment permits come in bunches though, and all the permits are for one project in the city — the new apartment development just west of Wal-Mart at Sixth and Wakarusa. That project, by the way, is being built by Lawrence-based Highland Construction, which indicates Lawrence’s Stultz family — longtime landlords in the community — are behind the project.

    In total, the city issued $6.04 million worth of building permits in February. For the year, the city has issued $22.7 million worth of permits, which is up from $10.47 million a year ago. It’s early, so it is not wise to read too much into those numbers yet, but city officials certainly would love for that pace to continue.

    • Sales of single-family homes continue a steady climb, according to a new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. Lawrence homes sales in February checked in at 46, up from 44 during February of 2012.

    For the year, home sales are up about 20 percent — 82 home sales during the first two months of the year vs. 69 for the same period a year ago. But the bigger story is that February marked the 11th consecutive month that homes sales have been higher than the same month a year earlier. That’s the type of statistic that begins to paint a picture of a rebound. Indeed, I’m hearing from some in the industry that agents are now starting to believe that more homes are needed on the market. That hasn’t been the case for quite some time. If that feeling continues, that’s the sort of sentiment that will fuel a rebound in the single-family construction industry.

    In terms of other numbers from the monthly report:

    — The number of active listings in Lawrence is down almost 30 percent from a year ago — 371 in February 2013 compared to 510 in February 2012.

    — The median selling price for the year is $174,125, up from $145,000 during the same period a year ago. But the sample size this early in the year is so small that those numbers don’t mean much.

    — The median days on market is at 99, which is up significantly from 79 days one year ago. That’s the one piece of the report that runs a bit counter to the recovery trend.

    • You know the housing market has been slow when homes that are built to sell for prices below their market value were slow to sell. But that had been the case for awhile with the southeast Lawrence affordable housing project being built by Tenants to Homeowners.

    In case you have forgotten, Lawrence-based Tenants to Homeowners has started construction on the Prairie Wind affordable housing community right near the corner of 26th and Haskell.

    The development is listing brand new four bedroom homes for $125,000 to $130,000. The homes have an appraised value of about $175,000. But Rebecca Buford, executive director of Tenants to Homeowners, told me even those homes were moving very slowly in the Lawrence market for the last year or more.

    But there are signs that is changing. Buford said the development has put four houses under contract in the last three weeks.

    “It is like a switch was turned on in the last month or so,” Buford said. “I think people have just been scared. And it probably wasn’t a good decision to buy if they didn’t think their job was solid. But I think people are starting to feel better about that.”

    The Prairie Wind development is set to have 18 homes when completed. Buford said five houses have already been sold and another seven are under construction, with four of those under contract. She said she hopes to have the project fully built and sold by this time next year.

    The development does place income restrictions on who can qualify to buy the below-market rate homes. Buyers must have an income under 80 percent of the median income for the area. For a Lawrence family of four that means an annual income of less than $56,650.

    • I have some catching up to do here on our listing of property sales as recorded by the Douglas County Register of Deeds. Click here to see the last few weeks worth of reports. There have not been many commercial sales of note, other than the ones we already have reported in past Town Talks. But here are few that caught my eye.

    — Maybe James Naismith’s original rules of basketball will be housed in The Oread hotel. I rather doubt that, but it appears the man who bought the rules to bring back to KU has purchased a condo in the hotel building. The listings show a trust held by David and Suzanne Booth bought an upper story condo in the hotel that sits atop Mount Oread.

    The Midland Railway Historical Association in Baldwin City has purchased a piece of property, 1704 College Street, along the railroad tracks, about a block south of its historic station. No word yet on what the plans may be for that location, but the old-time train company has been busy lately. It launched its first dinner train in January.

    — It looks like business must be going well for Biemers BBQ at 2120 W. Ninth St. The property transfers indicate the business has finalized a deal to purchase its restaurant location — which used to be the old Bucky’s hamburger joint — from a group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton.

    I don’t know about you, but a little BBQ and basketball sounds good right about now.

    Reply 3 comments from Navyvet Chad Lawhorn Golfguy

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