A Mexican restaurant on 23rd Street, more signs that Port Fonda coming to Lawrence, an Old Chicago rumor and other restaurant news
I have a batch of restaurant news, but I have to warn you it is a bit like chips and salsa for breakfast: It’s not really enough for a meal, but it is a good start nonetheless. Here’s a look:
• It is a proven fact that we all drive better with a burrito in our hand and warm cheese sauce in our lap. It looks like we may soon have another chance to practice such safe driving on 23rd Street. The former Pizza Hut building at 1606 W. 23rd St. is being converted into a drive-thru Mexican restaurant, according to a site plan filed at City Hall.
The site plan says the location will be a Panchos Restaurant. Finding information on the Web about a Panchos Mexican restaurant is a bit like finding a taquito in a box of taquitos. In other words, there are a lot of restaurants with that name (as evidenced when I ask Siri about it and her response simply was “You’ve got to be kidding me, numbskull.) But I would note that there is a regional chain called Pancho’s Mexican restaurant that appears to be expanding in the area. It has locations in Topeka, Olathe, Lenexa, Salina and parts of Kansas City. No word on whether that is the one, but if so, the chain advertises it is open 24 hours. I’ll do some checking and see what more I can find out about the company.
Regardless, it appears that a Mexican food brouhaha is brewing at the location. If you remember, the old Pizza Hut location is right next door to Border Bandido. Border Bandido, which also specializes in a form of quick-serve Mexican food, has been doing business at that location for a long time. It is one of the older restaurants in all of Lawrence. It will be interesting to see how two of them do side by side. Although it is worth noting that stretch of 23rd Street has never lacked for Mexican food. Now that Chipotle has opened just east of this site, there will be five Mexican restaurants within a two-tenths of a mile stretch on 23rd. Taco John's and Taco Bell are the other two.
• It sure looks like Mexican food of a different type is coming to downtown Lawrence. I’ve been telling you for months now that the hip Westport Mexican restaurant Port Fonda is coming to Lawrence, and now it appears the restaurant is sort of confirming it. The restaurant sent out a tweet on Monday that said it was coming to Lawrence, or more specifically to LFK, which we all know means Lawrence Fabulous Kansas. (That is what it means, right?)
I’ve had multiple people tell me the site is going to be in the ground-floor space of the new Marriott hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire. I’ve got a call into the guys at Port Fonda to see if they have an official announcement yet. I’ll let you know when I hear more.
• Sometimes you’re not in the mood for Mexican food but rather pizza as thick as a copy of "War and Peace." ("War and Peace" would be better with marinara sauce, by the way.) I certainly don’t have anything confirmed on this, but a reliable source has told me that a franchisee for Old Chicago Pizza is looking for a site in Lawrence. Old Chicago had a location in Lawrence for a long time near 23rd and Iowa streets before it was converted into the short-lived Saints Pub + Patio. I’m told Old Chicago has been looking in the northwest part of the city. We reported recently that a site plan had been filed for a pair of unidentified restaurants near the Wal-Mart at Sixth and Wakarusa. I have no inkling whether Old Chicago is one of those restaurants, but it is a restaurant chain worth keeping an eye on, it appears.
• For months and months and months I got question after question about the Burger King at 1107 W. Sixth St., which was closed after a fire in August 2013. People would ask: When is Burger King going to open? How come Burger King hasn’t opened? Why are you wearing a bathrobe and a paper crown and muttering things about Whoppers? You know, the usual questions. Well, as I told you many times Burger King indeed did plan to reopen following the fire, but it just took longer than expected. I can now report the restaurant has reopened, as of about a week ago. Just to be sure, I even went inside. I can report it looks a lot like a . . . Burger King. Although it is nice, new and shiny, and there indeed were paper crowns available.
Burger King begins work to reopen on Sixth Street; Menards receives building permit from city; large apartment project near KU lacks financing
It really is safe for all of us to get out our bibs, our paper crowns, our mobile thrones and all the other accoutrements required for a proper trip to Burger King. The Burger King on Sixth Street is going to reopen. Really.
There have been a few false starts and false hopes when it comes to the reopening of the Burger King at 1107 W. Sixth St., which has been closed since August 2013 because of a fire on the roof. Burger King officials previously had told me they expected the store to open sometime in April. But that date came and went, and I began to feel a tad silly arriving at the empty restaurant each morning in my crushed velvet bathrobe and scepter. And my son certainly was getting tired of wearing the jester’s outfit.
But Burger King officials now tell me they have everything they need to begin the project, and hiring for the store has begun. I’m more confident than I have been that the store is indeed on the path to reopening because City Hall officials have confirmed they’ve issued the project a building permit. There also appears to be work crews at the site.
“We have the building permit, and we’re ready to start throwing hammers and stuff,” said Lance Zach, regional manager for Burger King.
Zach said he hopes to have the store reopened by the end of October. I’m not sure I would write that date in stone just yet because there is a significant amount of remodeling that will be done at the site. Zach said the store will end up looking a lot more like the modern Burger King that is near Sixth and Wakarusa. The inside also will have a more modern look, with a lot more emphasis on areas for people to use their wireless devices while they dine. (That is good because the King needs to be in constant communication to deal with important matters in the realm, such as his kingdom’s fantasy football team.)
As for why the project has taken so long, I’m not entirely sure. Zach said he wasn’t either but is just happy to be moving forward. My understanding is that it may have taken the restaurant longer than anticipated to get its insurance check after the fire, and then the building permit process has taken quite a bit longer. City officials confirmed they received the application in March. There are always two sides to these types of stories about delays from City Hall. The city really doesn’t have a motive to unnecessarily delay a project, and sometimes projects are more complicated than property owners envision. For example, this property was old enough that I think it has to make some changes to its parking lot, and that type of work triggers a review from the Kansas Department of Transportation to review the property’s entrance onto Sixth Street, which also is U.S. Highway 40.
Regardless, the project is on the move, and Zach said the company is conducting interviews for restaurant positions each Wednesday. Zach said he plans to hire six to seven managers for the location, and a crew of about 40 people. Interviews are taking place at Burger King’s other two Lawrence locations, which are near Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive and in North Lawrence. Look for information on the interview process at the stores.
“We’re comfortable with where we’re headed with this now,” Zach said. “I’m glad because I couldn’t walk through this town without somebody asking me about it.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• City officials also have confirmed they’ve issued a building permit for the Menards home improvement center near 31st and Iowa streets. I don’t have word from Menards officials about when the store may open, but they previously have said construction should take nine to 10 months. Depending on how much the winter slows them down, I would say it is a good bet that the store will be open by the time the 2015 holiday shopping season rolls around.
It will be interesting to watch the project come out of the ground. It also will be interesting to watch whether Menards’ neighbor, Home Depot, makes any effort to expand its store. As construction begins at Menards, it will become obvious how much bigger Menards will be than the Home Depot store. According to documents filed at City Hall, Menards will have about 250,000 square feet of space under the roof. Home Depot has about 94,000 square feet. In addition, Menards will have an outdoor lumber yard that is about 150,000 square feet. If you remember, Home Depot wanted a larger store, but was unable to win approval from the City Commission in the early 2000s for the project.
• There is news — or at least questions — about one other large project in town. It is still not clear when or if work will begin on a major apartment/retail building planned for a site across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium.
At Tuesday evening’s meeting, city commissioners delayed taking action on a requested parking variance for a proposed multi-story building that will have about 240 apartments with a total of about 625 bedrooms. The developers want to reduce the required parking for the project by 100 spaces, which would leave the project with fewer parking spaces than there are bedrooms in the project. Commissioners said they wanted more information, such as how many students bring cars to campus, before they act on the request.
But what did become clear at Tuesday’s meeting is that the Chicago-based development group proposing the project doesn’t have the financing in place to build it.
“We have had several capital sources tell us they are not interested,” said Jim Heffernan, a manager with HERE Kansas LLC.
The project already has received from city commissioners — on a 3-2 vote — a 10-year, 85 percent property tax rebate. But Heffernan told commissioners that even with that incentive, the city’s parking requirements have made it difficult for the project to pencil out from a financial perspective.
Heffernan didn’t directly say whether the project would be discontinued if the parking exemption isn’t granted, but it is becoming clear that the project is still in a pretty speculative stage.
• One other last note: Mark your calendars for Thursday evening, if you are interested in the police headquarters issue. The city will host a forum from 7 to 8 p.m. at the police’s Investigations and Training Center at 4820 Bob Billings Parkway. A second forum sponsored by the city will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. Oct. 16, also at the Investigations and Training Center.
Also worth putting on your calendar is an event to be hosted by the Voter Education Coalition. The group plans to hold a forum from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Lawrence Public Library. My understanding is that forum will have representatives from both the advocacy group and opposition group that have formed around this issue. The two forums hosted by the city mainly will feature the chief of police and city commissioners.
Burger King promises it still has plans to reopen on Sixth Street; homeless shelter seeks winter expansion
A scepter just doesn't get you as far in this town as it used to. The King — the Burger King, that is — is finding that out.
I know many of you are wondering whether the Burger King at 1107 W. Sixth St. is ever going to reopen following a fire at the restaurant in August. Back in late February, we reported that the restaurant was expected to reopen in about eight weeks. I don't even have to take off my boots to know that those eight weeks are now up, and there hasn't been any visible sign of remodeling at the location.
But that is not for a lack of want on the King's part, I'm told. Lance Zach, regional manager for Burger King, has once again told me that the company is fully committed to reopening the location, which he said has produced good sales for a number of years.
The delay, however, is that the restaurant hasn't yet been successful in getting a building permit from Lawrence City Hall.
"I think we're getting close, though," Zach said. "My construction team has been hired. Everything is just sitting in a warehouse. We're ready to go."
City officials confirmed that the restaurant filed for a building permit in March. I don't have full details, but it sounds like there are just still a few technical issues that the city is seeking more information on from Burger King. And it is worth noting that projects like these go beyond fixing up what's inside the four walls. I think because of its age, the property has to have some exterior changes as well. I know Burger King recently has filed a site plan to make changes to the parking lot, and Zach said the Kansas Department of Transportation had to review some plans as well related to the store's entrance on Sixth Street, which is also U.S. Highway 40.
As for the building itself, it is expected to look more like the relatively new Burger King at the Bauer Farms development near Sixth and Wakarusa. The inside also will have a more modern look, with a lot more emphasis on area for people to use their wireless devices while they dine.
Zach said he still believes construction work should take only eight to 10 weeks, once it begins.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you see me swerving in between lanes near the intersection of Bob Billings and Iowa Street, it probably is due to one of two reasons: 1. I've dropped approximately four pounds of very hot Burger King breakfast hashbrown patties on my lap; 2. I simply can't figure out where one lane ends and the next one begins because the pavement markings have worn off at the recently reconstructed intersection.
Well, City Hall is working on a solution to No. 2. City officials later this month will open bids for a project to install permanent pavement markings at the intersection. You may be wondering why the intersection already is in need of new lane lines and such, considering that the intersection was rebuilt just last year. Well, last year's project wrapped up during a time when the weather was cold, so city engineers made the decision to simply paint lines on the pavement and wait for warmer weather to install the more permanent pavement markings, which are kind of like a thick, weather-proof tape that is applied to the pavement.
Bottom line: Expect new pavement markings at the intersection in June. The city also will be installing new crosswalk markings at nine intersections around town: Second and McDonald; Third and the Kansas Turnpike; 19th and Haskell; 19th and Kentucky; 23rd and Massachusetts; 25th and Iowa; 27th and Iowa; 31st at the post office; Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive.
City crews also will be going around with the city's specialty painting machine to refresh the markings at several locations around town. Click here to see the locations.
• You may not be thinking of cold weather at the moment, but the city's homeless shelter is. The Lawrence Community Shelter spent its first winter at its new location in eastern Lawrence and evidently found that demand for a bed at the facility was strong.
The shelter is asking the City Commission to change the occupancy limit on the shelter to 160 people, up from 125 currently. The shelter says it only needs the additional occupancy during cold weather periods, which it defines as 32 degrees or below.
The fire department has determined that the shelter has enough space to allow that level of occupancy, shelter leaders said, but the building is short on showers for that number of people. Shelter leaders are asking that the facility be granted an exemption to operate with a slightly reduced number of showers during the cold weather periods.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday aren't expected to make a decision on the occupancy issues. Instead, they're expected to refer the issue to city staff for further review.
• Just think about lugging 770 pounds of food around. That is a good 50 pounds more than I have to unload after my wife has hit the post-Easter candy sales. But on Saturday, there hopefully will be postal carriers all throughout Lawrence lugging around that amount of food and more.
As we have been reminding you this week, Saturday is the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, where postal carriers are encouraging all residents to place nonperishable food items in their mailboxes or near their mailboxes. Postal carriers will pick up the food, and it will be donated to Just Food, the local food bank.
We've chatted with the folks at Just Food a few times during the week, but it is the postal carriers who really are the engine that make this drive go. I chatted with Lawrence postal carrier Andy Tuttle, who is the state president of the letter carriers union and one of the organizers of the drive. He said the Lawrence carriers, who are part of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch No. 104, hope to collect 50,000 pounds of food this year. Tuttle said about 40 city letter carriers and 25 rural carriers will be on the streets Saturday collecting the food. So, 50,000 pounds divided by 26 carriers is about 770 pounds per carrier. Tuttle said the extra load adds at least a half hour onto a carrier's route, but they don't mind.
"We're out in the neighborhoods every day," Tuttle said. "We see people up close and personal, and we see how some people struggle and suffer in the community. We know this is a way to help."
Cereal, peanut butter, tomato products, canned fruit and canned meat are some of the items most needed, Tuttle said. And lots of it. Letter carriers will have some work to do to meet their goal of 50,000 pounds. Their previous high came last year when they collected 26,000 pounds, Tuttle said.
Burger King on Sixth Street hopes to open within eight weeks; more details on proposed rental inspection program
Of all the days to misplace my three-foot long trumpet . . . here goes anyway. Hear ye, hear ye: The King lives. The King lives. The King lives. Let us rejoice with Whoppers, fries, and copious amounts of breakfast sandwiches in defiance of the witch doctors known as cardiologists. (This would have sounded much better with the trumpet.)
Regardless, I'm obviously referring to the Burger King at 1107 W. Sixth St. If you remember, it has been closed since a fire significantly damaged it on Aug. 12. The delay in reopening the facility has caused some to worry that the days of Burger King at that location may be over. No need to worry about that, says Lance Zach, regional manager for the Burger King franchise. Zach said he hopes to have the store open in about six to eight weeks.
"It is a popular location in Lawrence," Zach said. "We're anxious to get rolling on it."
Zach said delays with insurance payments related to the fire have been the big holdup in getting the restaurant remodeled and reopened. But Zach said those issues appear now to be settled. He said officials have determined that an electrical connection in a can light in the dining room caused the fire.
Zach said some construction work had taken place on the site earlier, but that was just to gut the building. He said the remodeling plans have now been filed with the city and are awaiting a building permit. Plans call for a new look on the inside and the outside. Zach said the exterior will look more like the relatively new Burger King in the Bauer Farms development near Sixth and Wakarusa. The inside also will have a more modern look, and will feature a countertop area where people can plug in their computers and other electronic devices.
Zach said the location receives a good amount of university-related business, and area customers have been pretty vocal in their support for reopening. I know I have gotten numerous calls inquiring about the store's future.
"You think you get calls," Zach told me. "I probably get that question three or four times a day when I'm in Lawrence."
Zach said the store is currently interviewing for new staff members, and expects to begin training new employees at the other two Lawrence locations in the next couple of weeks. He said the store will hire about 25 employees, including seven managerial positions. People can apply at work4BK.com
Now, the trumpet. What the . . . how did it get in my neighbor's Dumpster?
In other news and notes from around town:
• I'm not sure that there will be trumpets involved, but the most recent list of land transactions in Douglas County has an interesting buyer on it. Country Jam USA Inc. has purchased about 3 acres of property at 1129 East 1264 Road — which is south of Lawrence, just south and west of the County Route 458 and U.S. Highway 59 intersection.
I don't think the company is in the business of making good strawberry jam, for instance, although that would be a fantastic development (despite the fact my wife won't let the kids and I eat anything sticky in the house anymore). Instead, our friend Mr. Google tells us that there is a Country Jam USA that is in the business of hosting outdoor music concerts. It looks like it currently has sites in Grand Junction, Colo. and Eau Claire, Wisc. Whether this is the same company that bought the Douglas County property, I can't say for sure, but it seems like a reasonable bet.
I wouldn't be too quick to jump to any conclusions about what the company has in mind in Lawrence. For one, there's been nothing filed at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning office for the address. In other words, no special permits have been sought to have a concert on the site. For another, the property is in a rural subdivision with several homes nearby. I would think Willie Nelson would have a better chance of landing a Gillette razor sponsorship than a concert company being allowed to host an event in a rural neighborhood. And finally, the site is only 3 acres and it has a house. So, it is possible that an owner of Country Jam USA simply wants to have a house in rural Douglas County. I called the company yesterday, but haven't received a call back.
But, the property transfer list is published in the newspaper, and I figured the name might catch the eye of some other folks as well, so I wanted to tell you what I knew about it. I'll let you know if I hear more.
• Get ready for some noise at Lawrence City Hall. Commissioners are scheduled on March 25 to vote on the latest proposal for an expanded rental licensing and inspection program that would basically cover every rental unit in the city.
As we have reported, Commissioner Jeremy Farmer has come up with a new proposal that seeks to limit the types of violations that could be used to deny a landlord a rental license. He's talked in broad terms about how the rental licensing program should be limited to issues that are of an immediate threat to health and safety. But he also has said city inspectors should have the ability to cite landlords for other types of violations, if the inspectors note them while conducting the rental licensing inspection. The big difference would be those other types of violations — think unpainted siding, for example — couldn't be used to deny a landlord a rental license. A rental license will become very important under this new system. Without a license, a landlord can't offer the unit for rent.
Now we have the list of specific violations Farmer has in mind. There are 27 violations that could cause a landlord to not receive a rental license. Here's a list of the 27 violations. (They're the ones at the top.) They include items such as: missing windows; exterior doors without locks; badly leaking roofs; issues of structural integrity; missing handrails; missing or nonworking smoke detectors; improper venting of furnaces, water heaters and dryers; a host of electrical issues; over occupancy of tenants; and several others.
Farmer, however, also has provided a list of 42 other violations, as an example of what inspectors may be looking for over and above the city's rental licensing program. If units are found to have these violations, they won't be used against the landlord license application, but the landlord could face a fine or other enforcement action if the violations aren't corrected. You can see that list here. (Scroll to the end.)
I hope to have more on the details of Farmer's proposal later today.