Another national chicken chain files plans for south Iowa Street; shopping center near 25th and Iowa to undergo major renovations
The next time I’m driving down south Iowa Street, I think there is a good chance that I’ll replace my seat cushion with a nest of straw and start sprouting feathers. Yes, that’s my way of telling you there is another chicken restaurant coming to south Iowa, and it is one that folks have been clamoring for.
Popeyes is listed as a tenant on a plan for a remodeled shopping center near 25th and Iowa streets. The site is the Tower Plaza shopping center just south of the Applebee's on Iowa Street. That shopping center includes First Watch, Papa Murphy’s and several other smaller businesses. The center previously included the Lawrence Workforce Center, but it recently moved to the new Peaslee Tech vocational education building near 31st and Haskell. That ended up being an important move for chicken lovers and drug stores that sell cholesterol medicine. Plans call for a portion of the shopping center that housed the workforce center to be demolished to make way for a standalone Popeyes building with a drive-thru. So, the restaurant will be right near the corner of 26th and Iowa streets.
The Kansas City firm R.H. Johnson Co. is redeveloping the center, but lead developer Eric Gonsher said it was too early to start talking about tenants for the site. But the plans filed with the city —if you have eaten your spinach and have the eyesight to read the fine print — show Popeyes in a tiny chart that lists tenants and required parking spaces. (If you ever want to win a chicken trivia contest, and I know you do, you should note that Popeyes is not named after the famous spinach-eating cartoon sailor. It is named after . . . Popeye Doyle from the movie "The French Connection," according to the restaurant’s website.)
If you are not familiar with the Popeyes restaurant chain, you apparently have already have had feathers grow over your eyelids and shield your view of the world. It is one of the larger chicken chains in the country, and it produces what it calls Louisiana-style chicken. I think that it means its breading has more Cajun spices than traditional chicken. The restaurant also has some southern seafood on its menu, including fried shrimp, po’boy sandwiches and Cajun fish. It also has all your traditional sides like cole slaw, mashed potatoes, biscuits, plus the Louisiana staple of red beans and rice.
Popeyes is just one change that is coming to the shopping center. The entire facade of the existing strip center retail building is set to change. The center was built in 1993.
“We’re just going to make it look new again,” Gonsher said.
The plans also show a new standalone restaurant building north of the Applebee's building. That would put it close to 25th and Iowa streets. Gonsher said it was too early to discuss tenant information about that building, but I’ve heard it is a national restaurant chain that has moved into the Kansas City area but hasn’t yet come to Lawrence. The plans submitted to City Hall don’t include a drive-thru, so it appears to be more of a sit-down restaurant. It is not a huge one, though. Plans show the restaurant at about 2,400 square feet, which is a little smaller than the Popeyes restaurant is slated to be. So, I’ll put on my Sherlock Holmes bib and do a little restaurant detective work this fall. (The man wore expensive clothes. Trust me, he had a bib.)
Gonsher confirmed what nearly everyone else in the commercial real estate market has been telling me: south Iowa Street is getting a lot of interest from companies looking to locate in Lawrence right now.
“It is clearly where all the nationals want to be,” Gonsher said. “It is a ton of traffic and great visibility. It is clearly the dominant retail corridor in the market, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”
As for the chicken explosion on south Iowa Street, let me bring you up to speed. Buffalo Wild Wings already has opened near 27th and Iowa. Raising Cane’s, a chicken finger restaurant, is slated for a spot at 2435 Iowa St. in the location that used to house Emprise Bank in front of Bigg's BBQ.
Then there is Chick-fil-A. As we previously reported, that restaurant opened today at its 27th and Iowa location in front of Dick's Sporting Goods.. In case you are wondering, people indeed did camp out in the restaurant's parking lot to be among the first 100 people in line when the store opened this morning. The first 100 received a voucher for one free Chick-fil-A meal per week for a year.
Stoddard won’t be candidate for Lawrence city manager post; Chick-fil-A sets date for South Iowa street opening
This news just in from Lawrence City Hall: Interim City Manager Diane Stoddard won’t be a candidate for the open city manager’s position in Lawrence. Stoddard sent out a message to employees updating them on several City Hall matters.
In that message she said “after significant reflection and discussions with my family, I have decided that the timing now isn’t right for me personally to apply for the position.”
Stoddard, though, said she does intend to remain as an assistant city manager upon the hiring of a new city manager.
“Once the new city manager is hired, I will return to my capacity of assistant city manager and will work to assist the new city manager in whatever way that I can to ensure a smooth and successful transition and continue all of the great public services and exciting projects currently underway in our community,” Stoddard wrote.
Stoddard, in the memo, briefed city employees on the process for filling the vacant seat left by former Commissioner Jeremy Farmer’s resignation, following financial irregularities at his previous employer. Stoddard did not go into any more detail about that situation, and the upheaval it has created at City Hall. She did not indicate that upheaval played a role in her decision. And to be fair, she had told me at the time of David Corliss’ resignation — he took a similar job in Colorado — that she wasn’t sure whether she would apply for the position. And that was before all of this upheaval created by Farmer’s resignation.
But there were certainly reasons to think Stoddard may apply. She is an experienced city executive, and she grew up in Lawrence. She’s gained a strong reputation for being able to help communities through complex economic development deals.
“This is an outstanding city, and an outstanding opportunity,” Stoddard said of the city manager’s position.
Stoddard’s decision certainly increases the likelihood that City Hall will have an unfamiliar face as its leader in the future. Stoddard is the most senior member of the city manager’s office. There certainly could be other candidates from Lawrence City Hall who will apply for the position, so I don’t want to discount their chances. There also are a number of people who previously have worked at Lawrence City Hall who have gone on to leadership positions in other cities. One of them may return.
The past two city managers in Lawrence were promoted from inside City Hall. When Buford Watson died while serving as city manager, Mike Wildgen — his assistant — was promoted to the top job. When Wildgen resigned after a long tenure, Corliss — one of Wildgen’s assistants — was promoted. So, it has been a while since a true outsider has taken the reins of City Hall’s top administrative post. The odds of that happening seem a bit greater now.
My doctor already has prescribed the handcuffs, the chains and the shock collar. I guess he thinks it really wouldn’t be a good idea for me to try to win a year’s worth of free Chick-fil-A as part of the fast food chain’s grand opening in Lawrence. But maybe the battery in your shock collar is running low. If so, I’ve got a date for Chick-fil-A’s Lawrence opening.
The company plans to open its store on South Iowa Street on Sept. 2, a spokeswoman for the restaurant’s PR company told me. Like it does in all of its markets, Chick-fil-A will host a giveaway where the first 100 people in line when the doors open at 6 a.m. on Sept. 2 will receive one Chick-fil-A meal per week for a year. My understanding is that in many markets, lines start to form about 24 hours in advance, and the parking lot of the restaurant looks a bit like a tailgate with tents, grills and chants of “wait ‘till basketball season.” (Maybe that last one is just a local tradition with tailgates.)
In case you have forgotten, the new Chick-fil-A is located in the parking lot of the shopping center that houses Dick's Sporting Goods at 27th and Iowa streets. If you have forgotten what Chick-fil-A is, ask the doctor to turn the collar down one notch. Regardless, the restaurant bills itself as the “home of the original chicken sandwich.” The menu includes several versions of a chicken sandwich, chicken strips, chicken wraps, chicken salads, and a host of side items and ice cream desserts.
The restaurant is part of a national chain, but the franchises are independently owned and operated. According to the company’s website, the Lawrence store is operated by Denise Martinek. According to a spokeswoman for the chain, the Lawrence store will employ about 80 people.
As part of its grand opening, the restaurant also will be hosting a book drive for the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, and a food drive for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, according to the spokeswoman. I'm still waiting on a press release with additional information about those events.
In other news and notes from around town:
• South Iowa Street remains as hot as a well-used deep fryer. I believe there are a lot of companies giving the street a look for a potential location, and there are a lot of property owners along the corridor repositioning themselves.
One is the group that owns the property near 25th and Iowa streets. The shopping center that houses Office Depot, Tuesday Morning and that used to house Discovery Furniture has filed to rezone the property in a manner that will make it easier to attract big-box development at the site.
In addition, a related development group owns property across 25th Street: the shopping center that includes Paisano’s Ristorante and other smaller businesses. That shopping center also has applied for the same type of zoning designations.
Both parcels of property won a recommendation for approval from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission on Monday. Now, the rezoning requests will go to the City Commission for final approval in the next few weeks.
I’ve got calls into members of the development groups to find out what their latest thinking is on the properties. The rezoning request is to change the properties’ zoning from Neighborhood Commercial Center to Commercial Strip. Planning staff members in their analysis have noted that the proposed zoning category allows a wider range of uses that would be more consistent with what people would expect along South Iowa Street, which has grown into the city’s largest retail district.
Bottom line, the zoning should make it easier to redevelop both sites. Whether the property owners have plans to do a complete redevelopment, I do not know. As I’ve previously reported, there is speculation that Hobby Lobby has been looking for a new location that could accommodate a larger store. There are a multitude of other retailers we have mentioned that are looking at the property south of the SLT and Iowa Street interchange: Academy Sports, Old Navy, Designer Shoe Warehouse, to name a few. So, interest seems to be strong.
I think the area between 23rd and 25th streets on the west side of Iowa will be interesting to watch. That is a large area with a lot of traffic that goes by it every day. There is quite a bit of vacant space or underutilized space in the development. Some of the buildings are starting to show their age. It could be an area where significant retail redevelopment occurs.
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.
Home sales soar in March; proof that a Chick-fil-A is coming to Lawrence; plans for East Lawrence bar/bistro
I’m sure we all spent some of our time last weekend watching the Kansas University spring football game, and we all came to the same conclusion about the upcoming season: I’m going to have to buy a bigger house to host all these fantastic watch parties. Well, some people evidently had already figured that out before Saturday’s game because the latest report for the Lawrence real estate market showed sales soared in March.
To be fair, I also did hear one other sentiment from KU’s spring football game: Until further notice, the spring game should be played only on . . . Nintendo. Regardless, home sales in March — which is the beginning of the important spring buying season — were up nearly 30 percent compared to March 2014, according to a report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. There also were signs that April will be a solid month. The number of sales contracts written in March was up 31 percent. Sales contracts usually are a good way to predict sales totals for future months.
The strong March has 2015 off to a good start. Through the first quarter of the year, Lawrence home sales are up about 14 percent from the same period a year ago. About the only number that wasn’t stellar in the most recent report was the number of newly constructed homes that have sold: nine. That’s equal to the total for the first quarter of 2014, but is below the 2013 and 2012 totals.
Most of the report, though, was positive. In fact, the market is beginning to show signs of struggling to keep up with the pace of buyers. In March, there were 326 active listings on the market, down from 374 last year and down from 408 in 2013. One way real estate agents measure the housing supply is to weigh the number of houses on the market versus the number of houses being bought per month. In March, that calculation was a 3.9 month supply. That’s down sharply from the 5.8 months and 5.4 months in 2014 and 2013. Anything less than a 5 month supply normally is a sign that a market is becoming tight in terms of available homes.
“Many homes are selling very quickly right now, and we really need more homes on the market,” said Crystal Swearingen, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors.
Here’s a look at other figures from the recent report:
• The median number of days a home is remaining on the market is 69, down from 77 in 2015.
• The type of homes selling in 2015 are a bit less expensive than in past years. The median sale price is $155,750, down $165,000 in 2014.
• Newly-constructed homes that are selling, however, are going in the opposite direction. The median sale price for a newly constructed home is up to $357,090. That’s up nearly 17 percent from the 2014 median. It is up about 25 percent from the 2013 median of $283,000. But take caution with these numbers. The sample size is small since only nine newly constructed homes have been sold all year.
• The total value of homes sold in the Lawrence market stands at $34.7 million, up about 10 percent from the same period in 2014.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The photo above should cause the arteries in your chest to tingle in a certain way. If the photo doesn’t, the restaurant that will soon be on the site certainly will. This photo is proof that a Chick-fil-A is indeed coming to Lawrence.
As we have reported several times, Chick-fil-A has plans to locate in the parking lot of the Dick’s Sporting Goods Shopping center at 27th and Iowa streets. Well, construction has now started on the pad site, which is just north of the Midas auto repair shop.
You can see in the photo, which is a couple of days old at this point, that work on the slab has begun, and piping is coming out of the ground. For those of you not familiar with all the technical details of construction, the piping is for the peanut oil, barbecue sauce and perhaps even the massive amounts of pickles needed to run a Chick-Fil-A. (Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that. It is a very technical business, and I probably someday will start my own company building fast food restaurants.) As for how long it takes to build this restaurant and get it open, I have not been given an estimate by anyone associated with the project. But I’ve clearly established my credentials as an expert in the subject, so I would estimate three to six months of construction for the project. I’ll keep you posted.
• Another area that I’m an expert on is food trucks. If you don’t believe me, you could look in the creases of the seat of my F150 pickup and almost certainly find a french fry or two from yesterday’s lunch.
So, I bring you news about a food truck venture we’ve previously reported on. Tony Krsnich, the developer of the popular Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence, has long had plans to turn the small building near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets into a bistro that serves food from several food trucks that will be just outside the building.
The project has received the necessary approvals from City Hall, but those approvals came with a condition: At least 55 percent of the business’ revenues had to come from food sales. The city placed that requirement on the zoning of the property after some neighbors were concerned the location could be come a tavern.
Krsnich, though, will be back at City Hall tonight to ask that the 55 percent condition be removed. Krsnich said he’s tried to find an operator for the business on multiple occasions, and each time the 55 percent requirement has been a deal killer.
Krsnich said the plans still call for food to be a large part of the business. He said he doesn’t have any desire to allow a traditional tavern or a rowdy establishment to locate in the building. The building is just west of his multimillion dollar Poehler Lofts building and his new 9 Del Lofts apartment building under construction at Ninth and Delaware streets. So, he notes, he has a lot of incentive to keep the neighborhood healthy. He said several potential operators have not wanted to take the risk of starting the business knowing that the city would have the legal right to shut it down if the business comes up a bit short on the food sales.
The 55 percent food requirement is the target new downtown drinking establishments have to meet. We’ll see what commissioners and neighbors think of the latest proposal. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission last month recommended removal of the 55 percent requirement on a 6-2 vote. City commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. tonight at City Hall.
Chick-fil-A files plans to build restaurant on South Iowa Street; city sets details for ice rink grand opening
With apologies to the pilgrims, forget about turkey for a moment. Think chicken, a pile of mayonnaise the size of the Mayflower, and a few pickles just for the heck of it. Yes, renew the cholesterol medicine, do the Chicken Dance, do whatever you need to do to prepare, but indeed Chick-fil-A has filed plans to open a restaurant in Lawrence.
I reported back in December that Chick-fil-A had expressed some interest in locating next to the Dick’s Sporting Goods at 27th and Iowa streets. Well, it took awhile, but the company has now filed plans to build a 4,800-square-foot store in the parking lot of the Dick’s Sporting Goods development. No word on when the location will open, but I would guess within the next 12 months, assuming that the project wins the fairly routine planning approvals it needs from Lawrence City Hall.
If you are not familiar with Chick-fil-A, they are “Home to the Original Chicken Sandwich.” (I always tell them not to serve me that one because I think it would be mighty stale.) The restaurant has about 10 different chicken items on the menu, ranging from crispy and grilled sandwiches to nuggets and strips, and even chicken salad sandwiches. But the menu also includes wraps, salads, breakfast items and desserts. The company has operated a food court version of its restaurant in the Wescoe dining area on the KU campus, but this will mark its first full-scale restaurant in Lawrence.
As for the shopping center Chick-fil-A is going into, the corner of 27th and Iowa streets continues to gain momentum. Dick’s Sporting Goods is already open. Construction work is underway to build a new PetSmart next to the Dick’s store. The Wichita-based development group that is redeveloping the former Sears site still has space for at least one, and maybe two more retailers, according to the plans I have seen. The development has about 9,000 square feet on the northern end of the building that could accommodate a retailer, and when an update on the development’s plans were filed in June, it showed room for about a 5,000 square foot retailer on the south end of the development. See the plans below. If you are keeping track at home, that one location that used to house an underutilized Sears store is set to house four new retailers and a restaurant.
I’ll keep my ears open about what else may be going into the development, and, of course, will keep my eyes peeled for the cargo planes full of mayonnaise landing at Lawrence Municipal Airport, which will be a sign that Chick-fil-A will soon open.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I’m beginning my stretching routine. No, I’m not talking about picking out the elastic pants I will wear for the opening day of Chick-fil-A. I’ve had those ever since my wife discarded her maternity clothes. I’m talking about stretching for the opening of the city’s new downtown ice rink.
City officials have finalized the details of the grand opening event. The rink, of course, is in the plaza area between the Lawrence Public Library and the new city parking garage along Vermont Street. The city will hold a brief grand opening celebration at 3 p.m. Friday, and then the rink will be open to skaters. (I can only assume the official grand opening ceremony will involve Vice Mayor Jeremy Farmer tossing Mayor Mike Amyx, who will do a perfect triple axel over the library’s copy of War and Peace, but the city press release didn’t provide those details.)
The rink’s normal hours will be 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays. But the rink will have special hours in the days right before and after Christmas. From Dec. 20 to Jan. 5, the rink will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It will be open from 1 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays.
The city will charge $3 per person to skate on the rink, and that includes skate rentals. The city is not allowing anyone to bring personal skates to use at the rink. The rink is made synthetic ice, which city officials said need very sharp skates for the best experience. The city will require people to rent skates to ensure that all skates have a sufficient sharpness. Children 10 years old and younger must be accompanied by an adult at the rink.
I have just come to expect that it will happen on every home improvement project: last-minute changes dictated by a higher power. You know, a potpourri station here, a chocolate fountain there, a 30-by-40 walk-in shoe vault around the corner. Those sorts of things. But I didn't know that the people who build home improvement stores have to deal with such last-minute tweaks as well.
But that's what is going on currently with plans for a Menards home improvement store near 31st and Iowa streets. (Put your marshmallows away. I didn't mean Menards is adding a chocolate fountain.) But designers are still making some changes to the project, which is one of the reasons construction hasn't yet started on the site that is just east of Home Depot.
Bottomline: There's still not a firm date for when the project will start construction.
At the moment, it appears most of the major changes are coming from Menards officials, not from city planners who are reviewing the site plan for the store. The biggest change is the store's outdoor storage yard is being reduced by more than half. That seems significant because, unlike Home Depot, Menards uses a covered, outdoor storage area to house most of its lumber and other building materials. Menards is proposing to reduce the size of the storage yard to 40,000 square feet, down from the original plan of 90,000 square feet.
I know that is going to create worry among some that Lawrence is going to get a smaller-than-average Menards store. There are people who feel like the Home Depot store is undersized compared with what's available in Topeka and Kansas City, and they don't want that to happen with Menards. It is worth noting that the size of the actual building hasn't changed, only the size of the storage yard.
I'm hoping to get someone from Menards to talk to me about what the change in size means for the store's future offerings. It is possible, though, that it may not be that big of a deal. Menards is moving its outdoor storage yard from the east side of its building to the west side of the building. That changes the traffic flow significantly and the amount of pavement needed to accommodate the traffic. People who have looked at the plans more closely than I have said it appears that the actual amount of area to store goods is about the same as originally proposed, but the amount of pavement to accommodate vehicles has shrunk considerably.
What's more interesting is what Menards is proposing to do with that saved space. As we hinted in November, Menards is trying to increase the size of one of its six outlying retail lots that will surround the home improvement center. The latest plans call for the retail lot immediately east of the Menards store to grow to 5 acres, up from about 1 acre. Obviously, that would allow for a significantly larger retailer to locate on the site.
What would be interesting to know is if Menards has somebody on the hook for the site, or if it is just speculating that this will make it more attractive to users in the future. Under the new configuration, two of the six proposed lots are pretty decent size. In addition to the one just east of the Menards store, there is an 8-acre lot right along 31st Street. It is commonly known as the Snodgrass tract, which was the single-family home that was just east of the Gaslight Mobile Home Village. It appears it can accommodate a decent size store. It has been a little tough to determine how big of a retailer could locate on either lot because there are some floodplain areas that make portions of the property tough to build on. But I've had some people in the business tell me that a 20,000 to 30,000 square-foot building may be possible on the site.
There are a host of major national retailers that occupy 20,000 to 30,000 square-foot buildings. But I haven't heard much talk of who may be interested in locating at the Menards project. As far as major retail speculation goes, the most recent retail rumbling I've heard is that PetSmart may have an interest in a Lawrence location. I certainly don't have anything confirmed on that, but it is worth noting that PetSmart and Dick's Sporting Goods have located next to each other in quite a few developments around the country. Dick's, of course, is under construction in the former Sears building at 27th and Iowa. The building has space for two more retail tenants, plus an outlying restaurant lot. As we reported in December, Chick-fil-A has made some inquiries about that site, but no deal has been struck yet.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you have taken on the awesome task of keeping up with the city's Mexican food restaurant scene, get out your scorecards. There are changes on two fronts. The El Mezcal at 804 Iowa St. is gone, and a Mexican restaurant called Pueblo has replaced it. Pueblo is owned by a longtime employee of El Mezcal, which has operated Mexican restaurants throughout the area. Felipe Avila had worked in various jobs for El Mezcal for about 15 years, and jumped at the chance to buy the 804 location when El Mezcal decided to sell recently. The menu at the location is very similar to what El Mezcal offered, but Avila said he plans to put his own touches on the business as well.
"Lawrence does love Mexican food," Avila told me. "There are probably too many places in town, but I really like this location, and we will offer good food and good service."
West Lawrence also is getting in on the act of new Mexican restaurants. A sign is up for El Sol in the shopping center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. If you remember, an El Mezcal used to operate in that shopping center, but it closed several months ago. I've reached out to the folks at El Sol and will report back when I hear more. There is an El Sol Mexican restaurant in Ottawa, although I'm not certain the two are connected.
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Signs that Chick-fil-A seeking store site on South Iowa Street; Dick’s Sporting Goods likely opening in June
Grab ahold of your drumsticks, Lawrence. There are real signs that Chick-fil-A is seriously considering building a new restaurant here.
A company representative has filed paperwork with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning office inquiring about the zoning of the former Sears site at 2727 Iowa St.
The former Sears site, of course, is where Dick's Sporting Goods plans to open a store. (An update on that in just a moment.) But plans for the project also include constructing a new building in a corner of the parking lot. The plans I've seen call for the restaurant building to be constructed in the southeast corner of the lot, kind of next to the Midas auto repair building that sits on Iowa Street.
Certainly, I've heard rumors that Chick-fil-A was interested in the site, but if I had a dollar for every time I heard a Chick-fil-A rumor, I would have at least seven or eight dollars. It is important to note that this latest development doesn't seal a deal that Chick-fil-A is coming to Lawrence, but it is evidence that the company is fairly far along in its evaluation of Lawrence and the former Sears site.
What the company has sought from the planning office is a "zoning certification letter." We're deep in the planning weeds here, but basically those letters further clarify what type of uses are legally allowed. Often, the letters are required by lenders before they will finance a project.
So, I'll keep my eyes open for any more developments on the deal. Certainly there have been rumors of other restaurants interested in the site, and I do believe interest in the location has been high. It's possible that the development group may be in the envious position of having more than one restaurant vying for the location.
If a Chick-fil-A does build in Lawrence, it will mark the end of one of the more frequent questions I've been asked in the 20-plus years I've reported here: When is Chick-fil-A going to build in Lawrence? I remind folks that Chick-fil-A operates a location in the food court of Wescoe Hall at KU, but that small location with limited hours isn't satisfying Chick-fil-A fans, based on the number of questions I get.
For those of you not familiar with the chain (your cholesterol levels must be fantastic, by the way), it's famous for its chicken sandwich, but it also has salads, wraps and serves breakfast.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The other big question I've been getting lately is, "When is Dick's Sporting Goods going to open?" A source close to the development tells me that June is now a likely opening date for the store.
Indeed, a building permit has been issued and work is underway at the site. The plans I've seen show Dick's occupying about 50,000 square feet in the middle portion of the building. That leaves space for an approximately 30,000-square-foot retailer on the southern end of the building, and about 10,000 square feet of space in the northeast corner of the building.
There certainly has been speculation that Old Navy may be a target tenant for the smaller space. But we'll have to take a wait-and-see approach on that one. I'm told no deal has been reached on the other spaces in the development.
But certainly the site — which was purchased by a group led by veteran Wichita real estate developer Michael Boyd — has some momentum currently. It will be interesting to watch what other national companies have an interest in Lawrence.
• It appears it also will be interesting to watch whether Lawrence City Hall ends up with a director of arts and culture position. As we reported, city commissioners last night received the final report from the city's Cultural District Task Force. A key recommendation of the report is for City Hall to hire a new position that will coordinate and market the community's efforts to become a major arts and culture destination for visitors.
Commissioners didn't take any action on creating the new position, but they sent plenty of signals that the position may stand a real chance to win approval. Commissioners said they may not want to wait until budget hearings this summer to have the discussion about whether to add the position to the 2015 city budget. Instead, commissioners asked staff to bring a report back in the next several weeks. There is grant possibility the Kansas Department of Commerce could pay for part of the first year expenses for the director. The city needs to make a decision on the grant, which would require matching dollars from the city, by early February.
City Manager David Corliss told commissioners last night that he supports the idea for a director of arts and culture. He said he's confident there's plenty of work such a position could undertake. It has been estimated that the position would add about $100,000 to the city budget, once salary, benefits and an operating budget for the position is created.
A large contingent from the local arts community came out in support of the idea at Tuesday's city commission meeting. Task force members also stressed that they believe the position is critical, and is a common city government position in communities that are thriving arts destinations.
Members of the city's Cultural District Task Force are: City Commissioner Bob Schumm; local marketing executive Cindy Maude; Lawrence Arts Center Director Susan Tate; downtown Lawrence business owner Mike Logan; East Lawrence neighborhood representative and artist KT Walsh; East Lawrence neighborhood representative Jacki Becker; East Lawrence neighborhood representative Brenda Nunez; Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission member Grace Peterson; and Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission representative Mandy Enfield.