Request for tax break on downtown project to create debate; a closer look at supposed parking problem in downtown
All we’ll need on Tuesday night at City Hall are the "Solid Gold" dancers because I suspect commissioners will hear a couple of classic tunes: a debate about downtown parking and questions about whether the city is business-friendly enough.
Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting are set to finally hear an incentives request for the proposed remodeling of the Pachamamas building at Eighth and New Hampshire streets. As we previously have reported, a development group led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor have plans to add four stories onto the existing one-story restaurant building. The four new stories would house about 55 apartments, while the ground floor would continue to be used as a restaurant, although a tenant hasn’t yet been found.
I say the commission is “finally” going to hear the incentive request because this item has been sitting in the commission’s to-do box for awhile. The development group asked for the approximately $300,000 in incentives — the city is being asked to exempt the project from paying sales taxes on construction materials — in May.
The city’s Public Incentives Review Board recommended in August that the incentive request be approved, but Tuesday night will be the first time the commission deals with the issue. That delay probably is not a good sign for the development group. Commissioners have been known to delay taking action on items that they really don’t want to do.
Bill Fleming, a Lawrence attorney who is representing the development group, told me he expects an uphill battle with the commission.
The tea leaves are not hard to read on this one. In April, voters elected Leslie Soden, Stuart Boley and Matthew Herbert to seats on the commission. All three campaigned on the idea that the city had been too loose with its tax incentives, with some of them particularly noting that apartment developers don’t need any incentives to build in Lawrence.
There’s one problem, though, Fleming says. The city’s economic development policy says otherwise. He notes that the city’s policy specifically talks about providing industrial revenue bonds to residential projects. The policy lists three preferred qualities for residential projects to receive the sales tax exemption that the project is seeking: 1. An infill or redevelopment project; 2. A mixed-use project; 3. A downtown location. A City Hall staff report notes the Pachamamas project meets all three of the preferred qualities.
As you may have guessed, this is where the argument about whether the city is business friendly enough is likely to begin.
“The city expects us to follow all their processes and procedures, so we we expect the city to follow its own process and procedure,” Fleming said. “The reason you have a policy is to send a message that if you do these things, we’ll do these things in return.”
Of course, policies can change, and that may be what is set to happen on Tuesday. Fleming, however, will argue that if the city changes its policy, it shouldn’t change for projects that are already in the pipeline. Changing the rules in the middle of the game has been a longtime rallying cry for folks who believe the city isn’t business friendly enough.
It will be interesting to watch what the commission does. This particular type of incentive — an industrial revenue bond that allows construction materials to be bought sales tax free — has been used a lot. In fact, here’s a number to help you remember just how much: $9.5 million. That’s about how much sales tax the state, city and county have given up since 2010 as a result of this incentive program.
The city put together a handy list of projects that have used the IRB sales tax exemption since 2010. The projects have totaled almost $212 million. The city uses a rule of thumb that about half of a project’s costs are related to building materials. That would mean about $106 million worth of construction materials were purchased with a sales tax exemption. At the current sales tax rate of 9.05 percent, that’s about $9.5 million in sales taxes that went uncollected. (I concede that the sales tax rate has been lower than that at times during 2010 to 2015 period, but there is only so much math I will do on a Monday morning.)
Now, folks at City Hall quickly will point out that not all of that money would have ended up in city coffers. The city only gets a portion of total sales taxes collected. The local sales tax rate — the city and county combined — is 2.55 percent. That calculates to $2.7 million in sales taxes that didn’t end up in the city or county’s coffers. That’s a little more than $500,000 a year that local officials would have had available for spending, if the exemptions weren’t granted. Of course, on the other side of the ledger, the community has more than $200 million worth of new projects, which surely are creating some benefits.
A question that is tough to answer, though, is whether any of those projects would have not proceeded if they would have been forced to pay sales taxes on their construction materials. Unlike some other city incentive programs, this one doesn’t make the builder show that the project would be unfeasible without the incentive.
We’ll see what type of line this relatively new City Commission takes on Tuesday. It will be a night where we will learn something about the economic development philosophy of commissioners.
• I’m also predicting a parking debate as well. That too is related to the proposed Pachamamas renovation. Plans call for adding about 55 apartments to the building, but there are no plans to add any private parking as part of the development.
Downtown zoning regulations don’t require developers to add parking as part of their projects. The city provides thousands of public parking spaces downtown. Regardless, several downtown projects have built parking as part of their projects. This development group has built underground parking garages for the Marriott at Ninth and New Hampshire and also is building a garage as part of the multistory office/apartment building under construction at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire. It also is worth noting, however, that both projects asked for and received much larger public incentive packages to help cover the cost of constructing underground parking.
You may be asking yourself, where is everybody going to park as part of this new project? A City Hall report is indicating it shouldn’t be that big of a problem because it points out a fact that often gets overlooked: Finding a parking spot in downtown Lawrence isn’t hard, if you are willing to walk just a little bit.
And the report found the area near the proposed Pachamamas site has a particular abundance of empty public parking spaces. The report broke downtown into quadrants. The northeast quadrant — everything north and east of Ninth and Massachusetts — has an average of 157 vacant, long-term parking spaces each weekday. During the evening hours, it is even higher.
The report serves as a reminder that the city is paying for some public parking lots that barely get used. Lot No. 16, which is the parking lot right at the entrance to the Riverfront Parking garage, has an average vacancy rate of 98 percent at any time of day, the report found. The Riverfront garage itself has a lot of 10-hour parking spots that aren’t being regularly used. It has about a 45 percent vacancy rate during the daytime hours and about 87 percent vacancy rate during the evenings. That’s a multimillion dollar structure the city built. It is even emptier on the weekends with about a 90 percent vacancy rate on the 10-hour spaces. Figuring out how to get people to pay to park in those spaces — you can buy an annual parking pass from the city for all 10-hour lots — would seem to be in the interest of the city. The city is spending money every year to maintain the parking lots.
Those two parking lots provide more than enough space to handle the approximately 55 new apartments that are proposed as part of the Pachamamas remodel. But both those lots will require a little bit of walking for tenants. I’ve timed the walk. It is five to six minutes, depending on which lot you park in. It is basically a walk of about two blocks.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t know whether this project deserves a tax incentive or not. But I find the parking issue pretty interesting. Lawrence is spending lots of money on trails, bike lanes and other infrastructure to get people to walk more and rely on vehicles less. This proposed apartment project is making a pretty big bet that there are people in Lawrence who really want that lifestyle. They’re proposing to rent apartments that don’t guarantee you a parking space, and may require you to walk five minutes to get to your vehicle.
It will be interesting to see if that is successful in the Lawrence marketplace. But first, it will be interesting to see if city leaders embrace the idea, or whether the idea of a two-block walk is too onerous.
Texas Roadhouse files plans for Lawrence location; time for a hoedown fundraiser; downtown construction project to temporarily close about 40 parking spaces
It is time to let my Willie Nelson beard grow out, begin driving my dually pick-up truck on the shoulder of the road, and start bragging about how the Longhorn football team is going to win the next 10 national championships. (Always starting next year, of course.) That’s right, it is time to get our Texas on. After months of speculation, we now have confirmation that the restaurant chain Texas Roadhouse is coming to Lawrence.
We began reporting back in December that Texas Roadhouse was looking for a south Iowa Street location. Well, the company has now filed plans to occupy the space that formerly housed Saints Pub + Patio. That’s near the southwest corner of 23rd and Iowa streets. Yes, the busiest intersection in the home of the Jayhawks soon will be flying a Lone Star state flag.
There also will be line dancing going on, peanut shells thrown on the floor, and lots of free rolls. If you are not familiar with Texas Roadhouse, it is kind of a budget steakhouse chain. Among its signature offerings are free peanuts in the shell that you are encouraged to throw on the floor (warning: my wife may still yell at you,) all-you-can-eat dinner rolls, and the staff sporadically begins line dancing. (Originally, I thought that was an effort to get me to pack up my sleeping bag and quit ordering rolls, but I’m told that is just part of the routine.)
As for the food, the restaurant offers a variety of hand-cut steaks ranging from sirloins to rib eyes to T-bones at price points from about $10 to $25. Ribs also are a big part of the menu, as well as plenty of country sides such as potatoes almost anyway you like them, their version of a blooming onion, and hand-battered, deep-fried pickles.
In Kansas, the restaurant has locations in Olathe, Topeka, Manhattan and Wichita. The company has more than 400 restaurants across the country. Interestingly, the company didn’t get its start in Texas. It was founded in Indiana. But, I’m fairly confident, Lawrence is still going to adopt Texas ways. Many in the community already do their best to emulate Willie Nelson, although not necessarily by growing his beard.
No word yet on when the restaurant may open. Plans call for demolition of the building that housed Saints at 2329 Iowa St. The company plans to construct an approximately 7,200 square foot restaurant building as part of an approximately $900,000 project.
It will be interesting to see if this project spurs other redevelopment in that shopping center, which is at a very busy intersection but has struggled to maintain tenants in recent years.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe Lawrence is going country. South Iowa Street certainly is going to look a bit more country. In addition to the Roadhouse project, I remind you that just down the street at 27th and Iowa, the Boot Barn will be going in next to Dick’s Sporting Goods. The renderings we have show the facade will look kind of like a barn.
So, you had better start preparing your country ways. I can give you diction lessons. (Lesson No. 1: Never use that phrase in a country bar.) Or, you could just plan to attend the United Way’s newest fundraiser.
The United Way has announced it is going to host a Chili Hoedown and Cornbread Competition on Oct. 3 at St. Margaret’s Church, 5700 W. Sixth Street. In addition to the chili and cornbread eating, there also will be square dancing, complete with professional square dance callers.
Folks interested in competing in the chili and cornbread competition can register for $20 by going to this website. Tickets for the event also can be bought at the website. Admission is $25 for adults, which includes chili, cornbread and beer. Youth admission is $10 for kids 13 and over. Children 12 and younger are admitted free.
• I’ve gotten word from the city about a downtown project that motorists will want to keep an eye on. As we’ve previously reported, The Eldridge Hotel has filed plans to build a major expansion in the vacant lot just south of the historic hotel.
Now, plans are starting to come into City Hall about how the project will impact parking and traffic flow in downtown. Mark Thiel, assistant public works director, said the current plans call for about a dozen parking spaces in front of The Eldridge and the vacant lot to be closed from October until about December 2016. The sidewalk in front of the area also would be closed. The parking spaces will be used to house a crane for the construction project. The positioning of the crane also will be mean that northbound traffic on Massachusetts Street won’t be able to turn west onto Seventh Street. So, prepare a different route to the post office.
The city-owned parking lot behind The Eldridge also will be closed until about December 2016. The parking lot, which has 27 spaces, will be used to house construction materials. There will be some changes in access to the alley, but Thiel said a plan is in place that will allow delivery trucks to still access the alley to serve businesses in the 700 block of Massachusetts.
City commissioners will get a chance to review the traffic control plans for the project. The plans likely will be presented to commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting.
“We feel comfortable with what is proposed,” Thiel said. “There may be some things we tweak to try to accommodate other businesses, but we think they have submitted a pretty good plan.”
Planners looking at trading some downtown parking spots for additional bicycle parking; Alvamar redevelopment recommended for approval by planning commissioners
Maybe it is time to start trading some car parking spots in downtown Lawrence for some bicycle parking spots. Maybe it is time for me to start wearing my cowboy hat and chaps when riding a bike to downtown. There is an idea floating around that could lead to both scenarios.
I’m talking about bike corrals. If you are not familiar with the concept, bike corrals basically are big bike racks that take over an on-street parking spot rather than being placed on a crowded sidewalk. (I’ve now discovered you don’t have to wear traditional corral apparel to use these. I’ve also discovered chafing.)
City planners are actively considering the idea of placing some bike corrals in downtown Lawrence. Yes, that would mean there would be fewer car parking spots in downtown.
“A lot of communities are finding that it is a good way to bring legitimacy to biking as a transportation mode,” said Jessica Mortinger, a transportation planner for the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department.
It also may be a good way to spur complaints from motorists, who during busy time periods complain about not having enough good parking options already.
But here is something to remember: You don’t have to have four wheels to complain about parking in downtown Lawrence. Mortinger said the idea for bike corrals came about after a business made a request for more bike parking. Bicyclists that come to downtown have expressed concerns about about finding safe, convenient parking spaces.
You may think it would be easy enough to just park your bike on the sidewalk. But Mortinger notes that is becoming more difficult for a variety of reasons. The new parking meter poles are big enough that a traditional U-lock for a bike won’t fit around them. Plus, there are concerns that bikes take up too much room on the sidewalks, especially when you factor in that sidewalk dining areas already are eating up a significant amount of space that once was reserved for pedestrians.
Mortinger also points out one other factor: the city law that prohibits people from riding their bikes on downtown sidewalks.
”They can’t ride their bikes on the sidewalks downtown, but that is where the parking is,” she notes.
It is not, however, that downtown doesn’t have any designated parking spaces for bicycles. There are traditional bicycle racks on the sidewalks near the midblock area of most Massachusetts Street blocks in downtown. There are also other bike racks scattered throughout downtown.
In total, there are 271 bicycle parking spaces in downtown, Mortinger said. There are 4,042 parking spots for cars in downtown. Mortinger notes that in most new developments in the city, one bicycle parking spot is required for every 10 traditional parking spots. If that standard were followed in downtown, there would be a little more than 400 bicycle parking spots in downtown. It is worth remembering, though, that downtown parking is a special breed in Lawrence. Unlike other developments around town, businesses aren’t required to provide their own parking. City-owned parking is instead the norm.
Whether there is enough parking — or it is in the right places — has long been a debate in downtown. It will be interesting to watch how the idea of taking some parking places for bike corrals will be received. Planners are still trying to figure out the right number and location, Mortinger said. She said one near the Lawrence Public Library makes a lot of sense because on many days the bike racks near the library are full.
She said planners are also looking for a location on Massachusetts Street and a couple in the 100 blocks of side streets just off of Massachusetts Street. Each corral can usually accommodate about 10 bikes, depending on the design. The city has not decided what type of design to use yet, but you can see several examples here. Planners have had some discussions with Downtown Lawrence Inc. How that group responds to the idea probably will go a long way in determining what type of political reception the idea gets at the Lawrence City Commission, which ultimately will be asked to approve a bike corral pilot project in the future.
“I think they like the idea of additional bicycle parking,” Mortinger said of her conversations with Downtown Lawrence Inc. leaders. “As always, though, there is a limited amount of space downtown and always concern about how we use it.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• The idea of more residential development around the Alvamar golf and country club got a positive response from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission on Monday evening.
The Planning Commission — on a 9-0 vote — recommended approval of a plan that would add about 300 additional apartments, condos and other multifamily units near the course. The idea of an expanded banquet facility with about two dozen overnight guest rooms also received a thumbs-up from the planning board. Now the plans — which have been proposed by a local group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel — will go to the City Commission for approval. A date hasn’t been set, but the earliest it would arrive at the commission is Sept. 8, a planning department official told me.
As we previously reported, the plans for the redevelopment shrank a bit in the last couple of months. At one point, there were plans for a large assisted living and independent living facility just south of where the clubhouse area sits today. That component was removed from the most recent plans.
The largest residential component in the new plans is to the north of the existing clubhouse area. The plans — which are being designed by local architect Paul Werner — call for up to 292 multidwelling living units, which would be in up to nine buildings. The buildings — ranging in size from two stories to four stories — would be along the existing section of Crossgate Drive north of the clubhouse area. The buildings likely would contain a mix of apartments and condos, Werner said. Some rearranging of golf holes will be required to accommodate the new development, but plans still call for Alvamar to maintain 36 holes of golf.
The latest plans still call for a new public street to be built south of Bob Billings Parkway and west of Crossgate Drive. The new street would become the new northern entrance for the country club, and also would serve the new multifamily development. I’m still a little unclear on when that street would be required to be built. I’m checking on that today and will update when I get more info.
The development also would include a 15,000 square-foot banquet facility that would be built near the current location of the public pro shop. The banquet facility would include 24 guest rooms that could be rented as part of wedding parties or by golfers.
Lawrence firm has connection to company on ABC’s “Shark Tank” tonight; a guide to Haskell Avenue’s pending closure
My wife used to really encourage me to try out for the ABC television program "Shark Tank" — until she realized there aren't any actual sharks. Regardless, a Lawrence company is going to be watching the program with great interest tonight.
Lawrence-based Western International has partnered with a Prairie Village-based company that will be featured on the program at 8 p.m. on ABC. For those of you unfamiliar with the program, it's a contest-based show where young companies make presentations in front of venture capitalists, a.k.a. the sharks.
The folks over at Western International, based in East Lawrence, won't be in the tank tonight, but they'll be rooting hard for the Johnson County company SwimZip. Officials from SwimZip will be on the program trying to gain funding to expand the reach of its line of specialty swimwear. The Lawrence connection is that SwimZip's warehouse and shipping facility recently moved to Lawrence. Western International late last year signed a deal to operate the facility for SwimZip out of its building near 19th and Delaware streets.
"It is going to be fun to see what it does for sales," Todd Stauffer, vice president of Western International, told me.
We'll have to wait until tonight to find out whether the company was successful in gaining funding, but Betsy Johnson, one of the founders and owners of SwimZip, told me she's confident the company is going to benefit either way.
"It is going to be awesome," Johnson said. "It is the type of exposure you can't buy."
The company has been in business for a little more than three years. Johnson founded it with her brother, Berry Wanless, after Johnson was diagnosed with skin cancer at 26. After researching skin cancer, she realized it probably was her time out in the sun as a child that put her most at risk.
So she and her brother designed a line of swimwear that blocks 98 percent of the UVA and cancer causing rays. A big part of the system is a special swim shirt that provides protection for the shoulders and back. That's also where the "zip" part of the company comes from. The shirts use a special no-pinch zipper that makes them easier to put on and take off than traditional swim shirts.
As for Western International, SwimZip is just the beginning of what it hopes will be a significant expansion. Western International's main line of business has been as a wholesaler of farm and ranch books. It stores about 8,000 titles at its warehouse and ships them to farm and ranch stores around the world.
But Stauffer said one of the company's areas of expertise is in shipping and warehousing, which got company officials thinking of how they might be able to help other firms.
"There are a lot of small start-ups out there that get started in their garages, and then realize they've grown to the point that they are too big for the garage or the basement," Stauffer said. "We see a niche out there to help smaller companies that are growing and need a mid-size warehouse, but don't want to operate it themselves."
The company employs six people and has room to house the shipping operations of additional companies. Stauffer said the company is in discussions with a Canadian company that wants a U.S.-based location.
"Being in this part of the country is a plus for us," Stauffer said. "We basically have equal shipping times to both coasts."
UPDATE AND SPOILER ALERT: SwimZip on Friday was offered and accepted a $60,000 investment from one of the "sharks" on the program. The company's new partner, "QVC Queen" Lori Greiner, mentioned on the show that she thought SwimZip had potential to get into stores such as Target and other major retailers. So, as they say, stay tuned.
In other news and notes from around town:
• As we've previously reported, there is going to be a hassle on Haskell on Monday. And you had better get used to it because it's going to be around for a long time. Construction work on the South Lawrence Trafficway will close Haskell Avenue between 27th and 29th streets through Spring of 2015.
There are several businesses along that stretch, and it hasn't been real clear how people will get to them. Well, let's clarify: Motorists still will be able to access both 27th Street and 29th Street off of Haskell Avenue. In other words, the closure begins just beyond those intersections.
But here's the trick: You are going to have to plan ahead. If you are trying to access a business at or south of 29th Street, you are going to have to come at it from the south. If you are trying to access a business at or north of 28th Street, you are going to have to come at it from the north. And you also are going to have to turn on 27th Street and wind your way through an industrial park to get to 28th Street.
Here's the thing to remember: There's no side street west of Haskell that runs all the way through from 27th Street to 29th Street. Oregon Street runs from 27th Street to 28th Street, but it dead ends there. So, if you are hoping to take just a little one-block detour to skirt around the construction zone, that is not going to work too well. Louisiana Street to the west is going to get busier during this time period because it is the first major road west of the construction zone that connects 23rd Street to 31st Street. Truck traffic, however, is not supposed to be on Louisiana Street. Technically, a truck coming from the east and needing to deliver to an industrial business near 31st and Haskell, would need to go all the way to Iowa Street, then connect with 31st Street and head back east until it reaches Haskell.
It will be interesting to watch what unofficial shortcuts get developed over the next 18 months or so. Previously, the city's public works director told me that a temporary road will be built west of Haskell Avenue. It basically will use a portion of the Haskell Rail Trail that runs behind the old E&E Display building that is between 28th and 29th Streets. That would create a through route for trucks and other delivery vehicles needing to access businesses in that area. But the road definitely won't be designed to serve as a detour for all the traffic trying to go down Haskell Avenue.
I'm sure there will be some complaints early on, and then people will get used to it. I actually was one of the few people looking forward to it, because I thought it would slow my wife's regular path to the stores on South Iowa Street. I thought I would save some money. Then she went and bought an expensive hovercraft on eBay. I can't win.
• Soon, I'll also be losing another free place to park in downtown Lawrence. City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will consider setting the rates for the new Vermont Street parking garage. The garage has been open for a couple of months, but parking has been free while the city determines rates.
City Manager David Corliss is recommending that the rates be basically the same as those in the New Hampshire Street garage. That means the lower level will be two-hour free parking, while the upper levels will charge $1 to park for up to 10 hours. Motorists will pay at self-serve pay stations. Despite previous discussions, there won't be a gate system on the garage.
Corliss also is recommending that the roof level of the garage be used for free 10-hour parking. That's similar to what has been done at the New Hampshire Street garage. But Corliss now is recommending that the free designation on the roof level of the New Hampshire Street garage be discontinued. It would start charging a $1 fee for 10 hours of parking. Corliss said demand for the New Hampshire Street garage has increased significantly and people no longer need an incentive to use it.
Commissioners will discuss the proposed parking rates at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday.
More LJWorld City Coverage
In my household, July means the start of two seasons: This is about the time that my wife’s refusal to turn on the air conditioner causes the kids and I to set up Gatorade stations throughout the house, and it is when city officials really start to dive into their budgeting process.
Fortunately, the weather has been cool this week, so there’s been plenty of time to focus on the budget. We’ve already reported that City Manager David Corliss’ recommended budget for 2014 calls for a 0.4 mill increase, which amounts to about $9.20 per year in extra taxes on a $200,000 home.
But the budget has a lot more details in it than just the bottomline. Here’s a look at a few other items of interest:
• There may be one fewer place for downtown motorists to park for free. As part of his budget, Corliss is proposing that the top level of the public parking garage in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street no longer be available for free parking. City officials several years ago agreed to make the top level of the garage free to park as a way to encourage more use of the garage. Usage of the garage, however, is not expected to be a problem in the future. Already, demand is up because of the multi-story apartment building at 901 New Hampshire, and more motorists are expected to be in the area as a new hotel/retail building gets built on the southeast corner of the intersection. By the way, hotel developer Doug Compton has told me he expects to get started on construction of the hotel around July 10.
• Perhaps we won’t get to make those fun commercials to attract retirees to Lawrence after all. Corliss’ budget does not recommend funding $30,000 for an annual marketing campaign to attract more retirees to the community. This will be an interesting one to watch because the city and county already have spent good money to get the ball rolling on retiree attraction. In January, commissioners agreed, along with the county, to award a $34,500 contract to Lawrence-based Kern Group to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy to attract higher-end retirees to the area. The contract calls for the group to create a title/slogan, a logo, a Web site, a package for marketing materials, and concepts for various print, broadcast and online advertising. Kern was up-front with officials that he expected it would take an advertising budget of about $60,000 to $80,000 a year to get the message out. If city officials don’t chip in $30,000 for the effort, I’m not sure where that leaves the commitment from the county or private stakeholders who may have made donations. We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, a fantastic advertising campaign hangs in the balance. I can see the commercial now: Retirees doing keg stands and streaking down Jayhawk Boulevard, followed by the tag line of “Lawrence: Where you are never old enough to know better.”
• Of all the books in the Lawrence Public Library, there must not be one entitled: How to Get Your Budget Request Fully-Funded at City Hall. Corliss is recommending a $100,000 increase in funding for the library as it prepares to move into its expanded facility downtown. But library leaders had asked for $175,000 increase. It is not unusual for agencies not to get everything they ask for, but how Corliss is proposing to fund this $100,000 increase is unusual. He recommends that the library fund dip into its rather paltry cash reserves to fund the $100,000 increase rather than raising the mill levy to do so. The library fund has about $235,000 in cash reserves, so this increase will eat up a good part of it. The strategy goes against the grain of one of Corliss’ long-held budget philosophies that permanent expenses need to be funded by permanent revenue sources. But in talking with Corliss, I think he is just hoping to buy time until the 2015 budget. The library’s first full year in its new facility will be 2015, and Corliss has said he has not forgotten what city officials told voters when they approved the $19 million expansion of the library. Officials told voters that they would provide the library additional money to operate the larger library. It was estimated a 0.5 mill increase would be needed for additional operational expenses. Thus far, the city only has funded a 0.2 mill increase for library operations. My crystal ball tells me to be on the lookout for a 0.3 mill increase in the 2015 budget.
• The new Rock Chalk Park recreation center will have a goal to shoot for — sort of. The 2014 recommended budget calls for the recreation center to generate about $715,000 in revenue, if it were to be open for a full year. But it won’t be open for a full year in 2014, so it won’t generate that much revenue. But that’s the number the city is shooting for once it is open full-time. As city officials said all along, the amount of revenue the center generates won’t be enough to cover its expenses. The 2014 budget — once again assuming a full year of operation — projects expenses for the center will be about $350,000 more than revenues. I believe revenues for the center will include things such as gym rental fees, class fees generated by the center, tournament and league revenue and concessions.
Ah, concessions. Maybe they’ll have a good deal on Gatorade. My kids and I sure hope so.
Buses, builders and bulldozers, oh my.
It is not the latest elaborate act for Lawrence’s Busker Fest. Instead, it may be the newest solution to finding a location to temporarily house downtown Lawrence’s public transit hub.
Commissioners at their meeting tonight will consider a new option for the transfer point: the 700 block of Vermont Street. For those of you who have forgotten your downtown geography, that’s where construction crews are building a $19 million expansion to the Lawrence Public Library.
The latest bus proposal calls for using the east side of the 700 block of Vermont Street for bus parking, and loading and unloading. That is the opposite side of where the construction work for the library is happening. (We’re basically talking about in front of the AT&T building and the vacant Local Burger building.) City transit officials have evaluated the site and haven’t come out against it, but they expressed several concerns. Transit staff believes there is a “high potential” for service disruptions or delays due to the library construction under way across the street. Construction vehicles often use the center lane of Vermont Street to make deliveries to the site. Transit officials also note the large number of buses that will be turning onto westbound Seventh Street may create problems for motorists trying to back out of the parking spaces in front of the post office.
But the new location was suggested by City Commissioner Mike Amyx, who is trying to find a location that doesn’t upset the parking balance downtown. City commissioners late last year agreed to move the transit hub to the 800 block of Vermont Street, but as the time came closer for the move, several merchants objected to the 13 long-term parking spaces that would be lost from the 800 block of Vermont. This new proposal for the 700 block of Vermont Street also will eliminate parking spaces. Transit staff estimates 12 to 16 spaces will need to be removed from the street. But I guess the thinking is the loss of parking in that area will be less objectionable because the new multi-level parking garage next to the library is expected to open this fall. We’ll see whether that theory holds. Thus far complaints about loss of parking haven’t emerged with this proposal, but that may be just because many folks in the area don’t know about it yet. (The proposal showed up on the city’s agenda late yesterday.)
Staff members have countered the new proposal with additional ideas on how they could mitigate parking problems in the 800 block of Vermont. They think they can place six five-hour parking meters on the north side of the 100 block of W. Ninth Street to partially offset the loss of the 13 meters in the 800 block of Vermont. In addition there are eight existing short-term spaces in the 200 block of W. Ninth Street that could be made into five-hour metered spaces. Staff members also believe about 20 two-hour spaces in the public parking lot near Ninth and Vermont could be signed so that people with 10-hour parking permits could use the spaces.
With all those changes, the number of long-term parking spaces near the 800 block of Vermont would nearly double. Merchants have said the need for the long-term spaces is critical because the area is used by downtown employees.
In case you have forgotten what started all this, the city is seeking a temporary home for its transit hub because its current location will become unworkable once construction begins on a new hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. Word around town is that work on the hotel is expected to begin by the end of the month. City officials already have commissioned a consultant to help find a permanent home for the transit hub. It is likely that hub will be outside of downtown, but it may take a year or more to make the necessary improvements and route changes to accommodate a new transit hub. City commissioners later this month are expected to receive information from the consultant.
As for tonight, it is hard to say where the transit hub may land. Staff members thought the issue was settled months ago when they first presented the 800 Vermont proposal.
But this process has kind of turned into one of those complicated home improvement projects. You know they type: You remove, by hand, 20 cubic yards of soil for your new swimming pool only to have your spouse walk out the back, give the dreaded shake of the head and suggest a bird bath and herb garden instead. (The home improvement analogy is appropriate because as we’ve previously reported, the big item at tonight’s meeting is consideration of Menards’ plan to build a home improvement center near 31st and Iowa streets.)
We’ll have to wait and see how the transit hub debate plays out. In the meantime, I’m going to rest up for tonight’s meeting by doing the backstroke . . . in my birdbath.