Potential deal to bring gigabit Internet service to Eudora may delay plans for Lawrence; city committee rejects plan to demolish East Lawrence Quonset hut
Forget keeping up with Kansas City. When it comes to widespread, super-fast gigabit Internet service, there are new signs that Lawrence is struggling to keep up with Baldwin City and Eudora. There is word out of Eudora that RG Fiber is close to signing an agreement to bring gigabit Internet service to that community, which also likely would delay any plans that RG Fiber has to bring the super-fast Internet service to Lawrence.
The Eudora City Commission on Monday had on its agenda a license agreement with Baldwin City-based RG Fiber. The commission didn’t yet approve the license agreement, but it is scheduled for a vote at a commission meeting later this month.
Mike Bosch, founder of RG Fiber, told me this morning that he is “very optimistic” an agreement will be reached with Eudora officials, and he hopes to announce details in the next several weeks about bringing gigabit service to homes and businesses in Eudora.
RG Fiber is the company that previously has announced a project to bring gigabit service — which is the same type of service Google Fiber is building in Kansas City — to Baldwin City and the Baker University campus.
As part of that project, Bosch planned to run fiber optic cable through Lawrence en route to Baldwin City. Bosch planned to use that fiber optic cable to also offer service in Lawrence. He had sought agreements with the city of Lawrence to lease some unused portions of city-owned fiber optic cable that would allow RG Fiber to begin offering gigabit service along major corridors in the city, such as Iowa, 23rd, Sixth and several other major streets.
In late January, Lawrence city commissioners met on the subject and appeared close to approving a fiber policy that would have allowed for a lease agreement to be entered into with RG Fiber. But then the fiber policy never did reappear on the City Commission’s agenda.
In the meantime, Bosch said discussions with the city of Eudora began to intensify. Bosch said he has found an alternative route to bring the needed fiber optic cable into Baldwin City. That route doesn’t involve Eudora, but he said he became interested in the Eudora market because he has investor capital that he needs to put to work.
As for what all this means for RG Fiber’s plans to offer service in Lawrence, Bosch said he’s still very much interested in the Lawrence market.
“But if the Eudora project goes through, we won’t have as much capital to build in Lawrence as we had hoped,” Bosch said.
Bosch said that likely could mean a delay for any project the company would undertake in Lawrence.
Bosch said the company, though, certainly is still interested in the Lawrence market. It could raise additional capital to expand in Lawrence, but Bosch said it was becoming difficult for RG Fiber to reserve capital for a Lawrence project without knowing when the city may act on RG’s request. Bosch said the process in Lawrence, thus far, has taken about a year longer than he anticipated.
Lawrence city commissioners met on Jan. 27 about a fiber policy that would have cleared a path for the city to sign a lease agreement with RG Fiber. The policy was recommended for approval by both the city’s own staff and also by a city-hired consultant. Commissioners, though, delayed a vote on the policy, but indicated it wanted to have the issue brought back up in the next several weeks.
Bosch said hasn’t received any substantive update from city officials on the fiber policy since that late January meeting.
“I really believe the elections and the questions surrounding the commission just overtook the fiber policy,” Bosch said. “It just never made it back to the agenda.”
Now, three new commissioners have taken seats on the five-member City Commission. Bosch said he hopes the new commission will consider approving the fiber policy soon.
“I really do still want to work with Lawrence,” Bosch said.
As for more details about the potential agreement with Eudora, Bosch said he didn’t want to comment on that agreement until it was finalized. I’ve put a call into the city administrator for Eudora, but haven’t yet heard back.
In terms of the Baldwin City project, the company has bought a building in downtown Baldwin City and has started to equip it for the project. Bosch said there have been some vendor delays, but the project is on track to begin hooking up customers this summer.
Bosch said RG is selling residential plans that offer 1 gigabit of service — both upload and download speeds — for $80 a month. If customers want to add a television package, the price is about $135 a month, depending on what package is selected, he said. Commercial gigabit accounts will start at $135 per month.
The Baldwin City project will include wiring all of Baker University’s campus — both its classrooms and its residence halls – with gigabit service. Bosch said he believes Baker will become the first campus in Kansas to be fully wired for gigabit service.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If there is anything sexier than super-fast Internet service these days, it is surely old Quonset huts. If you remember back in November, we reported that Black Hills Energy had filed plans with City Hall to demolish its Quonset hut maintenance building near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets. You also may remember that some East Lawrence residents and the developer of the Poehler lofts building expressed concern about tearing down the old building.
Well, the city’s Historic Resources Commission agreed. It has voted against a plan that would allow for the removal of the building. Black Hills Energy, however, has filed an appeal of that decision. So, maybe it will be bib-overall night at City Hall soon because city commissioners are going to get to spend some time discussing Quonset huts. Scott McCullough, the city’s director of planning, told me he expects the appeal to be brought to the City Commission for a final decision in the next couple of weeks.
Black Hills wants to remove the building as it prepares to sell the site. The natural gas company no longer uses the building for its maintenance crew. But others in the neighborhood have said the building represents a rare form of architecture that is worth preserving. Others have said the building could be turned into something cool that would fit in with the adjacent Warehouse Arts District.
McCullough said the Historic Resources Commission voted against the plan, in part, because the building sits in a conservation overlay district that calls for replacement plans to be presented before any buildings are demolished. McCullough said Black Hills has indicated it doesn’t plan to replace the building, but rather would turn the site into a gravel lot while it seeks a buyer.
I’ll let you know when I hear more details about when he issue will next arrive at City Hall.
New economic numbers show Kansas, Missouri laggards; Eudora ranks high in study of best places to own a home, Lawrence ranks not so well
Maybe we've spent all our energy arguing about whether a football game ought to be played in Arrowhead Stadium. Or maybe we've spent all our money trying to lure businesses from one side of the street in Kansas City to the other. Whatever the case, Kansas and Missouri have missed out on the party, according to the latest batch of economic statistics.
Both states saw their gross domestic products grow at rates much slower than their peers in the Great Plains and central portion of the country. Missouri, at 0.8 percent, had the slowest rate of GDP growth of any state west of the Mississippi River. What's worse for the Show Me State is this latest batch of numbers continues a dismal four-year trend. When Missourians talk about the foundation of their economy, I'm beginning to think they're really talking about the cement blocks that hold up all their vehicles.
Kansas' numbers weren't as bad. It had a growth rate of 1.9 percent, which actually is slightly above the national average of 1.8 percent. But before you unfurl the Mission Accomplished banner, know that Kansas ranked second to last in the Great Plains region — behind Missouri — and had the sixth lowest rate of growth of any state west of the Mississippi. (Why didn't you just ask? There are 22 continental states west of the Mississippi. Now you have to figure out how to fold that map back up.)
These numbers are important because GDP is basically the broadest measure of how a state's economy is performing. It looks at the value of products being produced in essentially every industry operating in a state, from agriculture to manufacturing to tourism. Huh, who would have guessed it, Missouri? Maybe SEC aren't the three most important letters in the alphabet.
Kansas and Missouri are in the Plains region, as defined by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The average growth rate in the Plains region was 2.5 percent. Kansas and Missouri were the only states in the region to be below average. Here's a look:
— North Dakota: 9.7 percent
— South Dakota: 3.1 percent
— Nebraska: 3.0 percent
— Iowa: 2.9 percent
— Minnesota: 2.8 percent
— Kansas: 1.9 percent
— Missouri: 0.8 percent.
Our other neighbors, Oklahoma and Colorado, aren't in the Plains region, but I see you peering through the drapes. You want to know what they are up to as well. Oklahoma grew by 4.2 percent and Colorado by 3.8 percent.
Sometimes it's useful to look at longer-term trends. The latest report provided GDP growth numbers dating back to 2010, and they show two things: North Dakotans strike another batch of oil every time they flush the toilet, and I'm really not unduly picking on Missouri. Missouri's numbers, as distinguished economists would say, really stink. Kansas' numbers, in economic parlance, are moderately trending towards stinkyness. Here's a look at the average, annual growth rate since 2010:
— North Dakota: 11.6 percent
— Nebraska: 3.1 percent
— Minnesota 2.75 percent
— South Dakota: 2.75
— Iowa: 2.4 percent
— Kansas: 2.3 percent
— Missouri: 0.75 percent
In terms of why Kansas didn't fare better in 2013, the report provides some clues. Kansas was the only state in the Plains Region that saw its construction industry and its durable-goods manufacturing industry shrink. Those are two parts of the recovery that didn't find Kansas. Interestingly, Kansas' agriculture industry also didn't add as much to the state's GDP as you might expect. It added 0.6 percent, while the average growth for agriculture in the Plains states was 0.81.
There are probably other factors at play here as well, but I don't have the time to find them. I have to help you fold up that map, and then I need to go buy a toilet in North Dakota.
In other news and notes from around town:
• One community in the area did recently fare well in a report involving numbers. Eudora has made the list of best places for homeownership in Kansas, according to the researchers at NerdWallet, a financial website.
Eudora ranked No. 13 on the list. A big driver of its ranking was that the average homeowner in Eudora spends just 26.7 percent of their household income on homeowner costs (things such as mortgages, taxes, insurance and such). Generally, anything under 30 percent is considered affordable.
The best city in the state for homeownership was Andover, a suburb of Wichita. The average homeowner there spends only 22.2 percent of the household income on homeowner costs.
There was one area city that did not fare so well on the list. I think you know it. The survey measured only those communities with 5,000 or more people, which in Kansas totals 59 communities. Lawrence ranked No. 59 on NerdWallet's list. Lawrence partially was hurt because of the methodology. The homeownership rate is part of what NerdWallet looks at, and Lawrence's college community status results in a low homeownership rate. More people rent in Lawrence than own.
But Lawrence's homeowner costs also weren't good. The average Lawrence homeowner spends 39.2 percent of his household income on homeowner costs. It looks like Manhattan was the only city that had a higher homeowner cost percentage. It checked in at 40.4 percent. But the NerdWallet folks gave Manhattan the No. 58 ranking, I believe because its median home price was lower than Lawrence's and its population growth rate is higher than Lawrence's.
In terms of other area cities, here's a look at their rank and the homeowner cost percentage:
No. 2: Spring Hill, 25.6 percent
No. 5: Gardner: 29 percent
No. 9: Leawood: 23.5 percent
No. 10: Olathe: 26.2 percent
No. 13: Eudora: 26.7 percent
No. 17 Shawnee: 27.5 percent
No. 25 Overland Park: 28.6 percent
No. 41: Lenexa: 28.1 percent
No. 50: Topeka: 32.2 percent
No. 51: Ottawa: 32 percent
No. 52 Kansas City: 37.9 percent
No. 54 Leavenworth: 29.9 percent
No. 58 Manhattan: 40.4 percent
No. 59: Lawrence: 39.2 percent
You can see the full set of rankings here.
More LJWorld City Coverage
In case you had forgotten, today — April 15 — is tax day. But I hear that a high-ranking federal official will be in town on Friday, so perhaps you could save yourself some postage and just ask him to take it back to D.C. with him.
Let me know how that goes.
In the meantime, let’s talk taxes of a different type. The city of Lawrence now has received sales tax revenue through the first quarter of 2013, and the city’s retail sales totals are showing growth over and above what was a robust 2012.
Through the March report, the city has tallied $354.1 million in retail sales, up 2.1 percent from the same period a year ago. In case you are scoring along at home, these totals don’t represent sales actually made from January through March. The state’s reporting system has a lag, so these totals represent sales made in late 2012 up to about mid-February.
If you are looking for a reason to be negative ( and why wouldn’t you, it is tax day), the city’s March numbers are down about 1.2 percent from March 2012 numbers. But worrying about one month’s worth of sales tax numbers would be like me worrying about my wife buying $150 worth of leftover Easter candy. It's just something that happens in life.
If you are really looking for a reason to be negative (geez, how much do you owe the federal government?), you also could point to the fact that the city’s sales tax collections are growing more slowly than they did a year ago. But that may just be you being a grump because the city posted a blistering growth rate of 5.24 percent in 2012, which was the city’s best retail growth since 1998. Over the past five years, the average growth rate of retail sales in Lawrence has checked in at 1.8 percent. So, the first quarter was about average.
Compared to other places in the state, Lawrence’s performance in the first quarter was mixed. Statewide, retail sales grew by 3.7 percent. Here’s a look at some of the larger retail markets in the state:
• Overland Park: up 1.2 percent
• Olathe: up 4.9 percent
• Kansas City: up. 6.3 percent
• Topeka: up 1.3 percent
• Emporia: up 3.5 percent
• Salina: up 1.7 percent
• Hays: up 5.0 percent
• Manhattan: down 4.0 percent
(Look what happens when your football team goes to a bowl game. Everybody leaves town and spends their money somewhere else. I knew KU football knew what it was doing all along.)
A little closer to home, here’s a look at totals for some smaller communities around Lawrence. But take these figures with a grain of salt. The totals are often so small that it takes only a few dollars to produce a sizable change.
• Baldwin City: up 5.5 percent
• De Soto: down 5.9 percent
• Ottawa: up 7.7 percent
• Tonganoxie: up 8.1 percent
• Eudora: up 16 percent. I actually did the math on that one, and the increase represented an extra $1 million in retail spending during the first quarter. Eudora has been running an aggressive “buy local” campaign, with signs everywhere in town. So maybe that it is it, or perhaps my wife simply found a leftover Easter egg candy outlet in Eudora.
And finally, it wouldn’t be a sales tax article unless I got out my inflation calculator. (You should see the size of that thing.) Here’s a look at Lawrence’s retail sales totals since 2008 — just prior to the financial crisis. The numbers in parentheses are the total adjusted for inflation, in order to give you an idea of how much retail sales have grown above and beyond inflation.
• 2013: $354.1 million
• 2012: $346.6 million ($350.4 million)
• 2011: $333.2 million ($343.9 million)
• 2010: $309.1 million ($329.1 million)
• 2009: $327.9 million ($354.8 million)
• 2008: $334.7 million ($360.9 million)
So, we haven’t quite rebounded back to the levels seen prior to the financial crisis, but we’re very close. And we clearly have bounced backed from the lows of 2010.
If you want more analysis than that, you are going to have to do it on your own. I’ve got breakfast to eat — Cadbury eggs and chocolate bunnies, of course.
It’s beginning to make a little more sense.
Perhaps you are not like me and you don’t spend a good part of the year wondering why Winnie the Pooh acts so dang strange. Perhaps you also don’t have a spouse who fills your home with the odd little bear every holiday season. (You don’t know what you’re missing out on.)
Well, word of a potential new business has given me a clue why that dumb-dumb is always getting his head stuck in a bee hive: Mead.
Yeah, mead. A new business venture is betting you are not familiar with the alcoholic beverage, which is made of … fermented honey.
Work is underway to build a new microbrewery in downtown Eudora that will offer a variety of craft beers but also will be one of the few facilities in the region to produce mead.
Area residents John Randtke and James Hightree are teaming up to open the Wakarusa Brewery in the coming months.
As anyone who has listened to me on a Saturday night can attest, that when I combine stories and beer, the details can get a little fuzzy. That’s the case here too. I chatted briefly with Randtke, and he said he hopes the business will be open by the fall, but said it could get pushed to early next year.
The business has signed a deal to purchase a long vacant building in the 700 block of Main Street in downtown Eudora. If you are familiar with that bustling thoroughfare, is the old vacant antique store building kind of across the street from the post office.
The building needs significant work, but Randtke has been through those type of projects before. He’s a mechanical design engineer for a local company that works to make buildings more energy efficient.
“We’re going to try to make it a small-town pub feel,” Randtke said of plans for the building. “I want it to be a quiet place where folks can go hang out and have a drink.”
But make no mistake, brewing will be the main activity at the building. About two-thirds of the building will be devoted to the brewing process.
Randtke said he and Hightree, who will serve as the day-to-day brewmaster, will specialize in making strong IPAs and stout, hoppy brews.
And, of course, there will be the mead. Randtke said he’s not aware of any restaurants or bars in the area that are serving locally produced mead, but he said the idea is catching on in some larger cities, like Chicago.
Technically, state regulators don’t consider mead a beer, and so Wakarusa Brewery will have to get a winery license to produce the beverage. But that has an advantage, Randtke said, because a new state law allows wineries to get a license to sell their products at farmers markets and such. That is part of the company’s future plans.
As for what to expect when you get that first chalice of mead (I don’t know why, but that’s what I expect my mead to be served in), it could be a little bit of anything. Randtke said meads can take on all different types of flavors. Some commercial meads have strong flavor patterns of cinnamon or vanilla, and many are pretty sweet. Randtke said he plans to make several drier varieties.
I think I would ask Winnie the Pooh what he likes. He might be a good customer. On second thought, I’m not sure he’s the type you really want around in a bar. With a last name like his, he’s bound to get into a lot of bar fights.