Posts tagged with Downtown

A harmonica, an umbrella, a cocktail multitool: downtown Lawrence’s new gift shop has it all

Here’s how an obsession with coffee mugs turns into a portable jigger that you can fit into your front pocket. No, I haven’t been using a jigger today. Instead, I’ve got news about downtown Lawrence’s newest gift shop.

Anomaly opened at the corner of Eight and Massachusetts Street — in the former Central National bank building — in the last few days. The store is meant to be a “pure gift shop” that will sell you something unique and even gift wrap it too, said co-owner Scott Lloyd.

The store came to be after Lloyd, who had worked in downtown retail for about eight years, realized he had an obsession with buying things. Store co-owner, and Lloyd’s partner, Chase Blackwood already had noticed that, especially Lloyd’s infatuation with coffee mugs.

“My partner said ‘no more mugs,’” Lloyd said. “This is my outlet now for buying stuff.”

Chase Blackwood and Scott Lloyd, co-owners of Anomaly at 800 Massachusetts Street. Submitted photo.

Chase Blackwood and Scott Lloyd, co-owners of Anomaly at 800 Massachusetts Street. Submitted photo. by Chad Lawhorn

Lloyd scours catalogs and websites for unique and fun gift items for Anomaly. One of them on the shelf now is a “cocktail multitool.” You know, it is like one of those super-manly pocket knife contraptions that also can serve as a pair of pliers and perhaps as a makeshift nuclear device if you are on an episode of "MacGyver." This one is better, though, because it has a portable jigger. Yes, I mean a jigger that can fit in your pocket, plus a stir stick, a muddler, a zester, and . . . I probably should move on, but the Soviet Union would have collapsed 10 years earlier if MacGyver had one of these.

Lloyd said the shop strives to have something for all ages, and he said the merchandise will change frequently.

“That is one of our main business models, actually,” Lloyd said.

Right now the store has hundreds of items, with some on the playful side such as harmonicas, puzzles and even a set of “jumbo jacks,” (yes, the old-fashioned kids game.) But there are also more practical items, like cookbooks, lunch totes, soaps and oils, fancy wooden cutting boards, and, yes, a few coffee mugs. Stationery and greeting cards also are staples at the store. Lloyd said items range in price from a couple of dollars for festive sticky notes to about $50 for some of the larger items.

Merchandise at Anomaly gift shop in downtown Lawrence.

Merchandise at Anomaly gift shop in downtown Lawrence. by Chad Lawhorn

Lloyd said he’s seen stores similar to Anomaly in bigger cities, but he thinks the concept will work well in Lawrence. Lloyd — who previously worked at Footprints and Au Marche — said downtown Lawrence seems to be hungry for new retail options, especially the type that are easy for downtown pedestrians to stop in and browse.

“The first day we were open was fantastic,” Lloyd said of last weekend’s opening. “The foot traffic is great.”

Lloyd also thinks the shop will become a destination for people who don’t know quite what to buy but are worried they’ve gone to the gift card well one too many times.

“People who don’t know what to get will find something here,” Lloyd said.

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Downtown has new beauty bar and med spa that will give you a ‘blowout’ and ‘semi-permanent makeup’

As a general rule, I don’t use a blow dryer on my hair. With male pattern baldness in my family tree, even windy days worry me. But one new Lawrence business is betting that a good shampoo and a blow-dry are counted by many people as one of life’s little treats.

The shop called "& Blowdry" opened recently on the ground floor of the relatively new 888 multistory apartment building at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. The business bills itself as a “premier beauty bar and med spa.” But don’t get confused by the description. A beauty bar is not that mythical tavern where everyone really does get more beautiful the longer you stay. This beauty bar doesn’t serve any drinks, but rather hopes to serve as a break from the daily grind.

“We are Lawrence’s trendy one-stop shop for affordable glam,” said Jessica Howard, who is a co-owner and manager of the shop. “It is really a pretty space for women, or men, to come and be pampered in a luxury setting.”

The business offers a full nail bar, manicures, pedicures, waxing and several other services. But the shop’s main service is something called a “blowout.” While my picture that runs with this column wouldn’t suggest it, I’m actually not up to speed on all the hair trends. I would have guessed that a blowout was something that would require me to wear a stocking cap for a week and explain why there are five empty Nair bottles in the trash.

But actually a blowout is the name for about a 45-minute session that involves a shampoo, a blow-dry and a hair styling that could involve a curling iron or some other type of “hot tool.”

Blowouts have become a big trend in larger cities, Howard said. In fact, there are many salons that have stopped offering haircuts and instead have focused on the blowouts. That’s the strategy at & Blowdry. While the business does offer trims, it doesn’t do full-on haircuts, Howard said.

“A traditional salon is doing the major hair services that you maybe only need every six weeks or so,” Howard said. “We are kind of the old-school weekly place where you can go for in-between services.

“Maybe you just want to get dolled up for a night out or for a weekend. And, we have a lot of people who are excited just to take a break from doing their own hair.”

The business has adopted a pricing structure that encourages that frequent visitor. A single blowout costs $40, but you can pay $99 and get as many blowouts as you want in a month.

Another part of the business that may be unexpected is the idea of spa parties. Women rent out the facility as place to get together, socialize and have their hair done.

“I definitely think a big part of this is just the vibe,” Howard said. “It is an escape from life.”

The med spa part of the business is run by Shonn Tew, who is a co-owner of the shop and also a registered nurse. The med spa offers services including Botox cosmetics, laser hair removal, skin resurfacing and several types of facials.

The spa also offers something called “semi-permanent makeup,” which also was a new phrase to me. (I once woke up with Sharpie drawings on my face, but I don’t think that counts.) Instead, Howard told me that an example of semi-permanent makeup is a procedure that involves micro-tattooing on your eyebrows, which eliminates the need to use an eyebrow pencil. It is semi-permanent because the micro-tattoo fades after about two years, she said.

The Lawrence shop is actually the second for & Blowdry. Its original location is on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It was founded by Lesley Compton, who also is a co-owner of the Lawrence location.

And while some men may be thinking that a hair place can’t be a hair place in downtown Lawrence unless the person behind the chair can talk a little bit about KU basketball, you might find out that & Blowdry has someone pretty well versed in that too. Howard is married to KU assistant basketball coach Jerrance Howard.

In other news and notes from around town:

• The ground floor space of the 888 building also landed one other tenant recently. The Edward Jones financial services office of John Gascon opened in space next to the hair salon. Gascon previously operated an Edward Jones office in Topeka, but moved the business to be closer to his East Lawrence home, he said.

Gascon, who previously was an architect, designed the office space to also double as gallery space. It will host its first show during Final Fridays later this month.


Mass Street to close for some upcoming concerts; free movie in downtown coming up; local restaurant lands in NY Times

In most cities the orange construction cones and “road closed” barricades mean crews are pouring some concrete or laying some asphalt. In Lawrence, it may be a hard substance of another kind: rock 'n' roll. Get ready for a major street closure in downtown Lawrence this weekend as part of a street party and concert.

Downtown business owner and music promoter Mike Logan has received City Hall approval to close the 1000 block of Massachusetts Street on Saturday as part of a new free concert series he is calling Live on Mass. The street will close to traffic about noon and won’t reopen until several hours after the concert ends at 11 p.m.

Logan is betting the inconvenience will be worth it to many music fans. The concert’s headliner is The Get Up Kids, an international touring act that got its start in Lawrence in the 1990s and went on to become a significant player in the emo music scene.

Now, the group will help Logan — who owns the Granada, Abe & Jake’s and other venues — answer a question: Can Massachusetts Street become a significant player in the Lawrence concert scene?

Logan has had the Live on Mass concert series idea for awhile, but the one other time he tried it, he didn’t win city approval to close the street to traffic — only large portions of sidewalk. But city commissioners granted his requests this year. The first event is Saturday, while a second event — featuring the reggae band The Wailers — is scheduled for July 2.

Logan said other cities have had success in using their downtown streets for concert venues. He estimated that Columbia, Mo., hosts about a dozen street concerts per year. The key, Logan said, is getting bands with large enough followings to attract sizable crowds.

“I’m pretty confident both of these shows will draw about 3,000 people,” Logan said. “We’re expecting a lot of out-of-town visitors for both of these acts.”

That means the concerts could provide a boost to hotel bookings, and it will represent new money coming into town and being spent at bars, restaurants, gas stations and other such businesses. Concert-goers, though, won’t be spending money on tickets. Both concerts will be free to enter, although Logan has won city approvals to sell alcohol and food at the street events.

Logan said he thinks the concert series has a chance to keep Lawrence’s live music scene alive during the summer months. He said concert-goers have really taken to the idea of outdoor music, which has fueled the growth of musical festivals. Ever since the state of Kansas turned sour on the Wakarusa Music Festival at Clinton Lake State Park several years ago, Lawrence has struggled to get into the music festival game. Organizers of the Free State Festival have closed a block of New Hampshire Street to host concerts in the past, but that festival has been downsized this year, and there will be no such street concert.

As a result, the number of summer concerts in Lawrence has also dropped, Logan said. He said many larger touring acts don’t do many of the small venue shows during the summer. They save those type of concerts for winter months. Logan said local concert-goers likely have noticed fewer summer shows scheduled for Liberty Hall, and he said his summer bookings at The Granada have been cut by about half.

“I think we need to try to prove this concept,” Logan said of the larger street concerts.

If successful, he thinks it could be a true form of economic development. He said his data shows that more than half of all the concert tickets at The Granada are bought by people who live outside of Douglas County.

“Music in this community can be a magnet for people,” Logan said.

But he said he also recognizes closing down a major city street can be a hassle for many people. He said he has won the support of fellow business owners on the 1000 block to give this a try this summer.

“I think many of them want to see how it works because they recognize there could be a greater benefit come from this,” he said.

As for details about the shows, here’s some additional information:

— Saturday’s show will feature The Get Up Kids with opening acts Making Movies, Kawehi, and Lily Pryor and Iris Hyde. Gates open at 6:30 p.m.. In the case of rain, the show will move indoors to The Granada. Admission is free.

— The July 2 show will feature The Wailers, which is a band formed by many of the remaining members of the late Bob Marley’s band. Opening acts are scheduled to include Page 7 and The Rhythm Project. Gates open at 6 p.m., and the rain venue will be The Granada. Admission is free.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Maybe you are bit more into drama than music, a bit more into grass than the hard pavement of a city street. (I should probably clarify that for the Marley fans, but hopefully it will make sense in a second.) Downtown Lawrence Inc. this week is hosting the second of three Dinner and a Movie events on the lawn of the Lawrence Public Library.

This one will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the grassy area between the library and the city parking garage on Vermont Street. The movie will be "Lego Batman." Like I said, drama. (Put a large group of kids around a small batch of Legos, and you will see drama — and perhaps an ER trip to have a Lego removed from an inappropriate place.) While the event starts at 7:30 p.m., the movie won’t start rolling until 9 p.m.. Various food vendors will be on hand, although you can also bring your own picnic to the event. Several downtown businesses also will be giving away door prizes to those in attendance early.

The final Dinner and a Movie event for 2017 is set for July 26 at Abe & Jake’s Landing. That movie will be "Jurassic World."

• While we are in the area, I have news of a Lawrence restaurant that received some attention in The New York Times. It may not be one you would expect. It is the relatively new Lucia Beer Garden & Grill at 1016 Massachusetts, which used to house Fatso’s Bar & Grill.

As we reported in August, Mike Logan — the concert promoter from above — opened the Caribbean-themed restaurant. The menu is heavy on Jamaican items, and Logan alerted me that the restaurant landed a prominent mention in a New York Times article last month.

The Times did an article on Jamaican beef patties. If you have never had one, they are ground meat — beef suet is common — with Jamaican spices inside a flaky, golden pastry crust. Somehow The Times noticed that Lucia had the item on its menu and was doing well with it. The author of the article interviewed Logan, and Lucia’s version of the Jamaican beef patties served as the photo for the story.

You can read the full article here, and it sounds like the Jamaican patties have become a bit of a downtown street food trend. Logan has taken to selling the patties during late-night hours through a food window that opens onto Massachusetts Street.

“You can hold it with one hand,” Logan told The Times about one of the reasons the food has become popular.

The Jamaican Beef Patty Extends Its Reach

He said he owed his passion to George Ricketts of G's Jamaican Quisine, in Kansas City, Mo., who introduced him to Caribbean food. "Most of my experience from Jamaican food comes from George," Mr. Logan said. He recalled the first time he tried the island food.

Reply 2 comments from Steve Jacob

Longtime downtown business moving to west Lawrence; BBQ spot closes doors

At least Rhonda Gibler won’t have any difficulties in getting stationery with her business’ new address.

“We definitely know how to do that,” said Gibler, co-owner of the Lawrence-based print shop Pro-Print.

Yes, the longtime printer of stationery, business cards, forms and other such items is ending its run in downtown Lawrence.

Pro-Print has announced that it is moving to west Lawrence by late April. The company is moving to the shopping center at the southwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive in a vacant spot between Salty Iguana and Morningstar's Pizza.

The move may be a sign of new things to come for downtown. Gibler said the business is moving because the Grantham family — the former owners of Pro-Print — have decided to sell the downtown building that has long housed the business. Gibler tells me a contract is pending on the building, but she had no word on the buyer. The building, 838 Massachusetts St., is a unique one because of its size. It is large enough that it has two addresses on Massachusetts Street. When you count the basement, it has 7,000 square feet of space, Gibler said.

Whatever happens to the space, it presumably will mark the first time in about 40 years that the building hasn’t been used as a print shop. David Longhurst operated a print shop in the location in the late 1970s, and the building became home to Pro-Print in 1987, Gibler said. She’s been working at the print shop since 1981.

“We’re excited about the move, but it also is kind of bittersweet,” said Gibler, who bought the business with partner Gregg Tolin in 2011. “I’m leaving my 'hood.”

Pro-Print's new location — 4931 W. Sixth St. — will have about half the space of the current spot. The business will continue to offer all of its current services, except contract restrictions won’t allow it to serve as a UPS center.

Gibler said the use of digital presses means the business needs less space these days. One thing it does continue to need is a lot of paper, and an easy way to receive the daily semi-truck delivery of paper. Gibler said that fact made it difficult for the company to find a space to relocate to in downtown.

“We have daily paper deliveries, and we need a spot that is good for those type of deliveries,” Gibler said. “We couldn’t find anything downtown that was the right size and had the right setup.”

Gibler said the store plans to serve downtown businesses as much as ever. The business has long had a delivery service, and she said it will have a particular focus on getting customer orders to downtown quickly.

As far as a timeline for the move, Gibler said Pro-Print has to be out of the space by April 30, but she hopes to make the move a week or so before then.

In terms of other buildings to keep an eye on in downtown, I hear deals either are done or close to being done for retailers to move into 835 Massachusetts, the former home of Ten Thousand Villages, and 816 Massachusetts, the former home of Doodlebugs used children's clothing. My understanding is both sites would house speciality retailers. I’ll report more when I hear more.

In other news and notes from around town:

• I don’t know about you, but barbecue duck sounds pretty good this weekend. (If you don’t get that joke, you should be arrested for not having basketball sufficiently on your mind.) Well, duck or not, there is one less place to get your barbecue supplies in Lawrence.

The business known as Grills & Grinders — or at times G&G BBQ Outfitters — has closed. It was in the same shopping center at Sixth and Wakarusa where Pro-Print is moving. The business closed earlier this month after a five-year run at the location, according to the company’s Facebook page. The business sold everything from grills to barbecue spices to fireproof covers for your eyebrows. (I may be confused on that last one. That may just be an item on my wish list.) According the Facebook page, the owners decided to move onto other ventures. No word yet what may move into that space at Sixth and Wakarusa.


Update on doughnut, whiskey and fried chicken place; pingpong, cheap beer among changes at music venue

Doughnuts and whiskey might become the new Breakfast of Champions. Exactly what you are a champion of might be an interesting debate. But, yes, proving that anything is possible in downtown Lawrence, we indeed are getting a doughnut shop that also will serve you fine whiskey. Proving that we are intent on giving doctors everywhere a certain salute, it also will serve fried chicken.

I alerted you last week that I had seen a City Hall application for a future downtown business that wanted to sell doughnuts, fried chicken and whiskey, but the permit application didn’t provide much information. (To be clear, it a was permit for a sign. You don’t have to pay for a city permit to fry a chicken. If you did, the south Iowa corridor alone would solve all city budget problems for a generation.)

Well, now I know more. Longtime downtown restaurant owner Nick Wysong is leading a group that will open Wake the Dead: Chicken, Whiskey, Donuts at 918 Massachusetts St., which is the former location of Burger Fi.

Wysong is the co-founder and owner of the popular downtown restaurant Ingredient. Perhaps more importantly for this venture, he’s also the former owner of Harolds Fried Chicken & Donuts. That was the short-lived restaurant that operated out of the Miller Mart gas station on West Sixth Street.

Wysong said the concept of fried chicken served with a doughnut developed a bit of a cult following during the year that Harolds was open. Wysong said he always wanted to continue with the idea, but was looking to tweak both the concept and location a bit.

Wysong has partnered with Lawrence businessman Ryan Robinson, who brings a lot of marketing experience to the table as a promoter of Color Run races across the country. Josh Kurzdan, who was part of the Lawrence Burger Fi restaurant, also is part of the group, Wysong said.

What won’t change with the business is the chicken recipe. It will continue to be “honest, Southern-style fried chicken.” It will be fried in the old-fashioned manner and will come with a choice of about a dozen sauces. Traditional sides such as potatoes and gravy or macaroni and cheese will be on the menu.

At Harolds, the doughnuts were a bit of a side dish. But that won’t be the case at Wake the Dead. Wysong said the restaurant will be a fully functioning doughnut shop. People will be able to come in of a morning and get a few dozen doughnuts to take to the office. If the thought of going to the office requires a shot of bourbon, Wake the Dead also will serve you that. The shop will have a large selection of “top shelf whiskeys,” Wysong said. It also, obviously, will have evening hours. It isn’t betting on whiskey for breakfast becoming a hugely popular trend. (It is trend-disadvantaged because people who partake in it don’t remember it well enough to tweet about it.)

As for the doughnuts, Wysong said he expects to have a stable of about 60 recipes, although he plans to start out by having about a dozen varieties available daily.

“We’re going to do this right and do it well,” Wysong said. “But the doughnut element is going to be huge. We’re super stoked about that.”

But perhaps what will blow your mind is that the fried chicken and the doughnuts truly will come together. (See, there is hope for a divided America.) Harolds served a sandwich called the Grilled Glazer. It was fried chicken covered in cheese sauce, a secret sauce, sandwiched between two maple-glazed doughnuts. Are you understanding this? The doughnuts served as the bread for the sandwich. I always assumed Harolds closed after a year in business because it was miffed that it had not yet won a Nobel Prize for this innovation.

Well, the Grilled Glazer will be on the menu of Wake the Dead. Wysong also said the menu will include a line of other sandwiches, some of which also will use doughnuts in place of bread. He didn’t give me details on what those will look like. (Or perhaps he did, but I was too busy renting a semi to carry my next order of cholesterol medicine.)

Remodeling work is already underway at the site. Wysong hopes to have the restaurant open in late January.

• Wake the Dead, however, isn’t the only venture Wysong is working on. Wysong also is part of a group that has purchased the Jackpot Music Hall and Saloon at 943 Massachusetts St.

You may have noticed that Jackpot was closed for a couple of weeks in November. That’s when Wysong’s group purchased the business. The group did a bit of remodeling on the interior and installed new exterior signage.

Wysong said Jackpot still will function as a bar and music venue. Wysong called himself a “good music fanatic,” and he said the venue will host a variety of genres including rock, bluegrass, funk, hip hop, country and others.

The business is next door to Wysong’s Ingredient restaurant and his Five Bar and Tables establishment that has been hosting live music, particularly jazz, for awhile now. Five Bar and Tables also has been host to regular pingpong gatherings. Those pingpong tables are moving to Jackpot, and he said the bar soon will announce a weekly special involving pingpong and cheap beer.

“I’ve always had a big crush on Jackpot,” Wysong said of the decision to buy the establishment. “We feel like we have had a lot of good luck promoting jazz at (Five Bar and Tables.) Now we have a bigger stage and venue to promote music.”

Reply 7 comments from Thesychophant Jon Bierig Rfellows Tadgh Brandon Devlin Brett McCabe Dorothyhoytreed

Plans for downtown grocery store growing; Price Chopper still in the mix on project

Trust me, I’m familiar with the idea of supersizing at the grocery store. There’s a reason my house has cereal boxes that can double as walk-in closets. But soon, downtown Lawrence and its neighbors in East Lawrence may have to figure out what they think of supersizing the grocery store.

The idea of a downtown grocery store at Seventh and New Hampshire streets at the site of the former Borders bookstore is still very much alive, the proposed developers tell me. But the idea is growing. The development group now wants to build a 40,000 square-foot grocery store instead of the 20,000 square-foot store that had been contemplated.

That will require tearing down the former Borders bookstore site — previously it would have been remodeled — and developers want the new building to be three stories tall. The two extra stories will be used to house about 80 apartments. The entire project will have a large underground parking garage, which necessitates the demolition of the existing building.

Bill Fleming, an attorney for the development group that is led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor, said several factors are leading to the push for a larger store. The biggest one, though, is simply competition.

“This will be a much more sustainable project for the community,” Fleming said. “There's a reason there aren’t many 20,000 square-foot grocery stores anymore. They have a hard time competing against the larger grocery stores.”

Even at 40,000 square feet, this project wouldn’t be one of the larger grocery stores in town. Fleming estimated it would be comparable to the Dillons store near 19th and Massachusetts.

As for who will be running this store, if it comes to be, that is still one of the more interesting questions out there. Fleming said the developers haven’t made a decision between the two previously announced grocery companies: Lawrence-based Checkers and Queen’s Price Chopper out of Kansas City .

Checkers was first to the scene on this project, but certainly Price Chopper has become a real possibility. I know the Price Chopper folks have talked about the benefit of a larger store. Fleming said he’s heard from them about the efficiencies that a larger store creates. Generally, a store that doubles in size does significantly more than double the revenue.

The project has other questions, though, before it can move forward. Fleming said the development group is having conversations with the owners of the condominiums in the Hobbs Taylor Lofts. There are covenant issues related to the former Borders property that would make it difficult to build a traditional grocery store on the site. Those covenants were put in place, in large part, to protect the adjacent Hobbs Taylor Lofts development. Fleming said the development group is actively engaged in conversations with Hobbs Taylor Lofts, and said that issue hasn’t yet been resolved.

“We’re listening to their concerns,” Fleming said.

It also will be interesting to watch what the reaction is to tearing down the old Borders building. The Borders building isn’t a historic one. It was built in the 1990s. But it replaced an older building, and there was a nasty fight about whether that building should be demolished to make way for the Borders building. Part of the compromise that was reached is that a couple of the walls of the original building remained. Fleming and I didn’t get into details about how they plan to construct this new three-story building, but that will be an issue to watch. Donald Trump’s wall may not be the only one that gets discussion this fall.

The former Borders building, located at Seventh and New Hampshire streets, in a file photo from 2012.

The former Borders building, located at Seventh and New Hampshire streets, in a file photo from 2012.

Tearing the building down, though, appears unavoidable, if the project is to move forward as now proposed. Fleming said the underground parking garage is a key to the entire deal. He said grocery stores demand a lot of parking before they commit to a project. The project easily could require 200 spaces or more.

“It is hard to do that without digging a hole,” Fleming said. And, he added, it is hard to dig a hole, if the building remains.

Watching the reaction of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association also will be interesting. Fleming said the developers have begun discussions with that group. He said he thought the discussions have gone well, thus far.

But this project is still in the early stages. No development plans have been filed yet, so there are probably more twists and turns to come. Although I didn’t delve into the topic with Fleming, I suspect this project will request a significant amount of incentives from the city. The city currently is debating how or whether it should offer incentives, especially for projects that include apartments. Fleming told me he anticipates the developers would seek to set aside about 15 percent of the apartments for an affordable housing program. Whether that will be an acceptable number to the city also will be worth watching.

Warm up the forklift to fetch the supersize popcorn because there will be many things worth watching on this project. The project has the chance to be fascinating because it is the rare one that has caused downtown developers and East Lawrence residents to both say the same things at times: Both groups essentially have ached to have a downtown grocery store for a number of years. Both think that it can be pretty positive to the health of downtown and the adjacent neighborhoods.

But now we are getting down to the details, and you know what they say about those. Of all the art forms that Lawrence is proud of, it will be interesting to see if the art of compromise is among them.

Reply 32 comments from Richard Heckler Thesychophant Will White Gregdivilbiss Carol Bowen Rex Hargis David Holroyd Kris Judy J Romero Jerome Bradley and 5 others

Former city commissioner seeking large tax rebate for proposed downtown project

A familiar face at Lawrence City Hall may end up being the test case for new thinking about tax breaks for downtown residential projects. Former City Commissioner Bob Schumm has confirmed to me that he’s filed a request for tax breaks for a multi-story office/condo project he hopes to build on Vermont Street.

We’ve reported multiple times that Schumm has filed plans to build a five-story building on a pair of vacant lots in the 800 block of Vermont Street, just south of the old Headmasters salon building. Plans call for a ground floor of office space, and Schumm says he has a tentative deal for a bank to be the anchor tenant of that space. The second floor would house about 30 small, high-tech office spaces. The remaining floors would consist of 11 condos that Schumm would sell, and one top floor living space he plans to keep for himself.

Plans also call for 22 underground parking spaces. Schumm has said the underground parking garage likely would require him to seek some financial incentives from City Hall. Well, that incentive request has now been filed.

Courtesy: Hernly Associates

Courtesy: Hernly Associates by Chad Lawhorn

Schumm is seeking 10 years' worth of tax rebates under the Neighborhood Revitalization Act. The first five years would include an 85 percent tax rebate on the new tax value added to the property as a result of the project. In the final five years, the tax rebate would shrink to 50 percent. Schumm also is requesting industrial revenue bonds, which would allow him to receive an exemption from paying sales tax on about $2.8 million worth of construction materials for the project.

The request comes at an interesting time. City commissioners are considering a host of changes to the policies that govern financial incentives, especially those offered to residential projects. The city is seeking to draw a brighter line that it won’t offer tax breaks greater than 50 percent for residential projects. The commission is also considering a provision that would require such projects to have at least 10 percent of its units be rent-controlled to serve as affordable housing units.

That new policy isn’t in place currently, so technically Schumm’s project doesn’t have to meet the provisions. But that’s really just a technicality. Approving or rejecting a tax incentive is entirely discretionary on the part of the commission. Commissioners can set the amount of the tax incentive and the terms however a majority of them choose.

So, it will be interesting to see what type of incentive package this commission thinks a major downtown development should receive. Most of the other downtown development projects that have received incentives were approved by the previous city commission.

Schumm says his project has a strong argument for public incentives. It can be summed up in one word: Parking. Schumm says he has received bids for the underground parking garage. They have come in at about $1.1 million for the 22 spaces of parking. Schumm says it is clear to him that he can’t pass along the cost of the parking spaces — about $52,000 a stall — to the owners of the condos. In the Lawrence real estate market, people simply don’t pay that much for parking, he said.

“The thing is, nobody wants to pay for parking,” Schumm said. “And in downtown, there is no requirement to provide parking, but the city wants you to provide parking.”

That is where things get really interesting. Schumm is correct that downtown zoning does not require projects to provide any off-street parking. The city decades ago — like many cities — decided public parking spaces would serve downtown.

But downtown has changed over the years, and the city is urging more residential projects in downtown. As more people live in downtown, more of a strain gets put on the public parking supply. Developers have said they they’re willing to put in in their own private, below-ground parking garages to accommodate some of the new parking demand they are creating. But they often say they can’t put in the parking and still have a financially-viable project without some assistance from the city.

That’s where this project stands. Schumm knows the drill well. He’s been a downtown businessman since the 1970s, and until he lost his re-election bid last year, he was one of the longer serving city commissioners in the community.

Bob Schumm

Bob Schumm by Richard Gwin

Schumm says he thinks he has a strong case to get the incentives, but if he doesn’t, the project could still proceed under a different path. He could change the development from one that has condos to one that has apartments. By doing that, he thinks he could eliminate the below-ground parking garage. In other words, he’s confident that renters will be willing to hunt and peck for a parking spot in nearby public parking lots, but condo owners likely will expect a dedicated spot. Lawrence developer Doug Compton is already making that bet. He’s adding apartment units to the former Pachamamas building at Eighth and New Hampshire, and he’s not adding any private parking spaces.

“I’m confident he’s not going to have a problem renting those units,” Schumm said.

Schumm said he’s confident he could rent apartment units too. His proposed project is right across the street from a large, public parking lot, and it is only a short block away from the new public parking garage at the library. Schumm notes that as a downtown property owner, he’s already paying a special assessment on his property tax bill to pay for a portion of that new parking garage.

“I wouldn’t feel bad about using the garage,” Schumm said.

And perhaps he shouldn’t feel bad about it. Did commissioners build the garage only for certain types of parkers to use, such as library patrons or people using the nearby municipal swimming pool? I’m not sure that they did. But parking is in high demand at times in downtown. If residents of downtown are taking larger amounts of public parking, that will make it more difficult for visitors to find parking, and that could have ramifications.

That’s the type of tradeoff that commissioners have to weigh.

As for the affordable housing component, Schumm said his project doesn’t have any plans to set aside units for affordable housing stock. He noted most of the City Hall talk with affordable housing has been focused on rental units, and his project doesn’t call for any rentals. He said if such a requirement is put on his project, he’ll try to meet it. But he said it probably would require a greater incentive in order for the project to pencil out. As it is currently planned, Schumm said the condo units are projected to be marketed at $275 per square foot, or about $275,000 for a 1,000 square foot condo.

Schumm has been following this closely. He has even went up to Iowa City, where new City Manager Tom Markus came from. He’s talked to developers up there, and quickly learned that developers in Iowa City had figured out how to make a similar affordable housing requirement work because they received large incentive packages, often times significantly larger than what has been offered in Lawrence.

I think that is a point that hasn’t quite got full discussion yet in Lawrence: If Lawrence wants to require affordable housing in projects, does it need to increase the amount of incentives it has historically offered?

For those of you who have been following along with City Hall reporter Nikki Wentling’s series on affordable housing, there have been signs that Markus thinks that discussion needs to be had too.

“Our incentives packages tend to be pretty conservative [in Lawrence],” Markus said in an article earlier this month. So, that too will be interesting to watch.

Schumm said he is hoping that through all of this, city commissioners remember the importance of having people living in downtown. Schumm said he’s become convinced new living units in downtown are the primary factor that will protect downtown from increased competition of new development on the edge of the city.

“The pressure from development on the periphery will never end,” Schumm said. “The way to take care of downtown for the longterm is to ensure people are living here. Then you have people here 24 hours a day, and that will bring in the different mix of retailers to downtown.”

We’ll keep you updated on Schumm’s incentive request. City commissioners will receive it soon, but won’t act on it right away. It will go to city staff and also to the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee for a recommendation before it is voted on by city commissioners.

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See the latest downtown multistory building likely to request financial incentives from the city

It is becoming a familiar issue for city commissioners to consider: Should a new multistory building in downtown Lawrence be offered some sort of financial incentive from the city?

It looks like the next project commissioners will be asked to consider is a proposed five-story commercial/residential building along Vermont Street that former City Commissioner Bob Schumm hopes to build.

Back in June, we reported that Schumm had plans for a major building on the vacant lot that is just south of the old Headmasters salon building in the 800 block of Vermont Street. Well, the proposal has changed a bit since then — we reported on some changes in August — and Schumm said he is getting closer to moving ahead with the project.

But Schumm told me he has decided he’s going to need a city incentive to make the project work as planned. Schumm said he plans to file this month an application for a property tax rebate through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act. No word yet on exactly how large of a rebate the project may seek. The city has given out rebates in the 50 percent range to 85 percent.

Schumm said there is one particular part of the project that makes the incentive needed.

“The project is going to have 22 underground parking spaces that are very expensive,” Schumm said.

That is becoming a theme with projects in the downtown area: Developers need help paying for parking.

Downtown is an interesting area when it comes to parking. For decades, the city’s code for parking in downtown has been different than it is in other areas of town. (My wife’s code for parking in downtown is different too, which is why you sometimes have to walk around a Ford Taurus on a sidewalk.) Along the key stretches of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, buildings can be constructed without having to provide any off-street parking for customers or tenants. The city long ago decided the downtown area would be served by public parking.

One thing that has changed in recent years, though, is the city is urging more development of a residential nature in downtown. As more people live in downtown, more of a strain gets put on the public parking supply. Developers — I’m specifically thinking of the development at Ninth and New Hampshire — have said they’re willing to put in their own private, below-ground parking garages to accommodate some of the new parking demand they are creating. But they often say they can’t put in the parking and still have a financially viable project without some assistance from the city.

The previous City Commission was pretty amenable to providing that assistance. Schumm’s project, though, is really the first such test for the new commission, so it should be interesting to watch.

I’ve heard some people say the city needs to just start requiring new construction in downtown to provide its own parking. I’ve heard others say that would be a momentum-killing strategy for downtown. It would create a two-tiered system in downtown: Hundreds of businesses get to take advantage of a code that doesn’t require them to provide for parking, while businesses that have come to the scene more lately have to take on the private expense of providing parking. And I have heard others, yet, say that instead of subsidizing developers to build private parking in downtown, the city simply needs to build more public parking. That, though, will take some new city resources, and perhaps some adjustments of parking rates. So, a lot to keep an ear open for on parking issues.

As for Schumm’s project, see below for some renderings from Lawrence-based architects Hernly Associates. The project is proposed to have a bank — the specific bank hasn’t been identified yet — on the ground floor, and 32 single offices of about 200 square feet each on the second floor, and 11 condos that will be for sale on the third and fourth floors. The fifth floor also will have a large condo, but don’t expect it to be for sale anytime soon. Schumm — who spent most of his career downtown as a restaurant owner — said he and his wife plan to sell their west Lawrence home and move into the top floor condo.

“When they take my keys away, I can walk to the senior center and everything else that is in downtown,” he said.

Courtesy: Hernly Associates

Courtesy: Hernly Associates by Chad Lawhorn

Courtesy: Hernly Associates

Courtesy: Hernly Associates by Chad Lawhorn

Courtesy: Hernly Associates

Courtesy: Hernly Associates by Chad Lawhorn

Any incentive request for the downtown project — which is being called Vermont Place — would first go to the city’s Public Incentives Review Commission for a recommendation and then to the City Commission for a final vote. The building's design already has won approval from the city's Historic Resources Commission, Schumm said.

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City to host several downtown running and cycling races, including Tour of Lawrence

Well, it looks like a certain basketball-oriented celebration that has been known to close downtown streets has been called off this year. But fear not, there will still be plenty of opportunities to celebrate — and close downtown streets — in the coming weeks.

What sort of a lineup have we got scheduled? What would you say if I told you that you could take out your hatred on tick-borne diseases by participating in a 5K race that will go through downtown and parts of East Lawrence? I would say if you are still ticked off about the KU-Michigan game, here’s your chance to actually take it out on the ticks. (Yeah, that joke sucked. Most tick jokes do.)

Mark your calendar for 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 11: The Kansas Tick-Borne Disease Advocates will host a race that will begin on Massachusetts Street at South Park, go through downtown to Seventh Street, head into East Lawrence, loop back onto Massachusetts Street at 15th Street and then finish at South Park. Massachusetts Street will be closed for a few minutes at a time as the runners come by in waves.

Several other events either have been approved or are in the process of being approved for the downtown in coming weeks. Here’s a look:

• At 8 a.m. on Monday, May 27 — Memorial Day — organizers will host The Home Run 5K in downtown Lawrence, an event that benefits Family Promise and the Lawrence Community Shelter. Perhaps the Royals pitching staff will participate. They usually are at the scene of a home run. (Yes, I’m a true Royals fan. I know Opening Day is not too early to lose your optimism about the team.)

The race will use the same route as the tick-borne awareness race. City officials, I believe, are trying to convince more events to use that route because it requires fewer resources from the Police Department to control traffic, and it introduces people to the city’s Burroughs Creek Trail that runs through East Lawrence.

• The Tour of Lawrence bicycle races will be back in Lawrence from June 28 through June 30. Once again, the events will happen both downtown and on the KU campus.

On Friday, June 28, downtown will host the Street Sprint portion of the tour. The 700 and 800 blocks of New Hampshire will be closed from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on June 28. That’s where the sprinting will take place. Eighth Street between New Hampshire and Massachusetts will be closed from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. on June 28. That's where the post-sprint celebrating will take place. The area will have a kids zone and live music, and adult beverages also will be sold.

A word of warning to people who park along New Hampshire Street: Be sure to move your car by 5 p.m. on that day, because towing will take place to ensure the race route is clear. (It's a Friday, so you can tell your boss that it's super critical you be out of the office by 5 p.m. I think I’ll park there.)

On Saturday, June 29, the racing will shift to the KU campus. Several streets on and near the campus will be impacted by the race but none will be completely closed. Here’s a look at that route and others used during the tour.

On Sunday, June 30, the event will finish with a Downtown Criterium, which is kind of like bicycle’s version of NASCAR short track racing, except the pit crews don’t fight at the end of each race. (The spandex must have a calming effect. Maybe NASCAR should try it.) It really is some action-packed racing, and it will require several streets in downtown to be closed from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. That includes much of Massachusetts Street and parts of New Hampshire and Vermont.

As in the past, the event will receive $10,000 from the city’s transient guest tax fund. The event will use the money to help attract elite teams to the race. This year the money also will be used to increase marketing to cyclists in the Chicago and Dallas areas.

• And finally, on the weekend of Sept.14-15, an estimated 2,000 cyclists once again will be camping overnight in downtown Lawrence. The 2013 Bike MS event is set to take place from 6 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, to noon Sunday, Sept. 15, in South Park.

In case you don’t remember the event — which will be making its third appearance in Lawrence — it is a fundraiser for the Mid-America Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Near as I can tell, cyclists ride miles and miles — from the Garmin headquarters in Olathe to South Park — to justify partaking in a large beer tent that has been sponsored by an area brewing company in the past. (Personally, I just drink light beer and skip the miles and miles of cycling part.)

In addition to riders coming from the east, a separate group also will be leaving from Topeka to ride to South Park.

The event will require Massachusetts Street from North Park and South Park streets to be closed from 6 a.m. Sept. 14 to noon on Sept. 15. The Community Building Parking lot also will be closed at that time. Both South Park and the Community Building will be used as an overnight “Cycle Village.”

• This last event isn’t a race and it won’t impact traffic in downtown. But I thought I would mention it anyway because it may impact traffic near 27th and Iowa streets. At least it is likely to when my wife is driving by it, becomes distracted by it and uses the Ford Taurus to create a new drive-thru at the nearby Runza restaurant. Beginning April 13 and lasting for the entire week, there will be 5,860 multi-colored flags stuck into the ground near the southeast corner of 27th and Iowa Streets — in front of Landmark Bank and Runza.

The flags — about 20 inches high — will be commemorating the Week of the Young Child. The 5,860 number is meant to be one flag for every child that is in childcare in Lawrence. The flag idea is being put together by Child Care Aware of Northeast and North Central Kansas, a nonprofit group based in Lawrence.

So, don’t be distracted. I’ve warned you. But Runza folks, if you see a maroon Taurus with a driver pointing at the pretty flags, I’d take cover behind the counter.

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City looking to partner with Hertz for on-demand car rental program in downtown

Soon a yellow and black sign likely will be prominently displayed to reserve a prime parking spot in downtown Lawrence.

No, Hell hasn’t frozen over and the city isn’t beginning to reserve parking spaces for Missouri Tiger fans. (Although, we ought to consider it. If a Tiger fan is willing to go to the trouble to take his car down off the blocks in his front yard, the least we can do is help him get a parking space.)

But no, that’s not what city commissioners will be contemplating tonight. Instead, commissioners will be considering a program to allow Hertz — and its yellow and black sign — to begin an on-demand car rental program in downtown.

Hertz has four cars that are part of an on-demand program on the KU campus. The program has been used enough that the company has an interest in placing a fifth car in downtown.

The program works like this: Hertz will have a dedicated parking spot — hence the sign, which, have I mentioned, is yellow and black — in the free two hour lot on the west side of New Hampshire Street near Eighth Street. (City lot No. 4, if you are scoring along at home.)

If you think you may want to use the car sometime, you sign up for the program and get a swipe card. Then, you can rent the car anytime online, swipe the card to unlock the doors, and away you go.

Eileen Horn, the city-county sustainability coordinator, worked to get the program in place for downtown because she thinks it may actually make people more comfortable using public transportation.

Horn said some people are nervous about riding the bus, biking or walking to work because they never know when they may unexpectedly need to use a car.

“If you have to run and get your child at school for some reason, you’ll have a car to do it,” Horn said as an example.

City commissioners are being asked to give final approval for the program at their 6:35 p.m. meeting today.

There are no fees for the city to pay to be a part of the program. The city, however, will need to donate use of the parking space to Hertz. The city is proposing a month-to-month donation agreement to monitor how the program progresses.

Horn said she expects the program could begin in two to four weeks.

Hertz is seeking approval to place a sign like this one in downtown Lawrence for its on-demand rental car program — Photo courtesy city of Lawrence/Hertz.

Hertz is seeking approval to place a sign like this one in downtown Lawrence for its on-demand rental car program — Photo courtesy city of Lawrence/Hertz. by Chad Lawhorn

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