Lawrence’s horse-drawn Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade is fantastic, except scurrying for candy in the streets can get a little messy. (Actually, don’t bother. That’s not candy, city slickers.) The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a great tribute to the Irish and out-of-control grocery carts. And the Earth Day Parade is a reminder of what great fun we’ll have when the entire world starts riding bicycles and all yoga is free.
But despite Lawrence’s love of parades, there is one type the community hasn’t had for years: a traditional Veterans Day parade. A group of local residents plans to change that this November.
A Veterans Day parade through downtown Lawrence is set for 1 p.m. on Nov. 11, which happens to be a Saturday this year. The route will go down Massachusetts Street roughly from Seventh Street to South Park.
That’s your cue to line the streets and put your patriotism on full display. I thought I should explain because it has been a long time since Lawrence has had a Veterans Day parade. Organizers believe the last official one was in 1968.
The organizing group — which is co-chaired by American Legion member Don Weis and Lawrence Police Department employee Kim Murphree — already has the necessary parade permit from the city. Now, they’re just looking for lots and lots of veterans.
Mike Kelly, a retired Air Force colonel and member of the organizing committee, said the group is looking for anyone who has served in the U.S. Armed Forces, regardless of whether they served during a time of war.
Kelly, though, said he wants to make sure Vietnam veterans particularly feel welcomed. He said that the idea for the parade stemmed, in part, from hearing from people who knew Vietnam veterans who still struggle with the reception they received upon returning from the war.
“I think there are a number of people who now just say it has been too long,” Kelly said. “We ought to say thank you, especially to the folks who haven’t gotten a thank you. We think there are some people out there who didn’t get a thank you.”
Any veteran who wants to participate in the parade can get in touch with Murphree at email@example.com or can leave a message on the group’s Facebook page, which can be found at The Lawrence Veterans Day Parade.
Local car dealers are providing several vehicles for veterans to ride in, several farmers are providing large flatbed trailers for veterans, and walking the parade route also is an option, Kelly said. He said the committee will accommodate whatever needs a veteran may have.
In addition to the veterans, Kelly said organizers hope to have a military band, honor guards from the sheriff’s office, police department, fire department and other organizations, and some military vehicles from the Army Reserve or another branch.
“It will be like a Humvee or something,” Kelly said. “No M-1 tanks on Mass. That wouldn’t be good for the pavement.” (It did give me a wonderful idea, though: a candy cannon.)
Kelly said people who would like to honor a deceased veteran can provide information to the committee via the Facebook page or email address. He said the tentative plan is for posters to be made with those names.
People who are interested in volunteering also can reach out via those same means. He said people would be needed to help clean up afterward and to help near the viewing stand, where an emcee will be announcing the names of veterans.
“But the main purpose of all this is just to say thank you,” Kelly said.
Marking your calendars to do that may be the most important role you can play.
The plan to grow the city’s sales tax coffers by filling Memorial Stadium had a bit of a setback this weekend. Regardless, the latest report shows the city’s sales tax collections are still growing, although not as rapidly as in past years.
Plus, I still think something positive will come out of last weekend’s game. If you were like me and watched it on the Jayhawk Television Network, you saw approximately 200 ads for a miraculous device called the Brownie Bonanza, and I ordered approximately that many of them. That ought to cause something to grow.
In actuality, the latest sales tax report is for the city’s August collections, so spending from KU football fans isn’t yet showing up. The large amount of spending the city saw as a result of the Junior Olympics in late July also isn’t reflected in these numbers. Though the state calls this its August sales tax report, there is a delay in the time it takes for retailers to collect sales taxes and send them into the state. So, the figures in the August report really are more indicative of sales that happened in June or thereabouts.
For the month, Lawrence sales tax collections were up by 0.3 percent, which is kind of a ho-hum performance. One-month totals, though, don’t mean a whole lot. They vary widely from month-to-month. Year-to-date numbers show a better trend. Through August, Lawrence sales tax collections are up 2.7 percent compared to the same period a year ago. That is still one of the better growth rates in the state, but it is not as good as last year’s performance, when sales tax collections grew by about 5.5 percent.
For much of last year, Lawrence sales tax collections were the fastest growing of any of the large retail markets in the state. The fact that the growth has slowed down lends some credence to the theory that Lawrence saw a large uptick in 2016 thanks to the addition of some major retailers, especially Menards. But Menards has now been open for more than a year, so its numbers are already baked into the system, so to speak. (Sorry for the phrasing. I’ve still got Brownie Bonanza on my mind.) Are there other retailers out there that would add significant amounts of money to local sales tax collections, if they were to locate in Lawrence? Are some of them part of the proposal for a shopping center south of the South Lawrence Trafficway and Iowa Street intersection? I don’t know. City Hall officials, though, should work to figure it out, given the importance of sales tax collections to the city’s budget.
Here’s a look at how Lawrence’s year-to-date sales tax growth compares to other major retail areas in the state:
— Lenexa: up 7.8 percent
— Shawnee: up 4.3 percent
— Lawrence: up 2.7 percent
— Olathe: up 2.7 percent
— Topeka: up 0.9 percent
— Overland Park: up 0.7 percent
— Saline County (Salina): down 0.1 percent
— Sedgwick County (Wichita): down 0.3 percent
— Kansas City, Kan.: down 1.1 percent
— Riley County (Manhattan): down 2.3 percent
• When it comes to sales taxes, there is one other figure worth tracking these days: The sales tax surplus at City Hall. While sales tax collections aren’t growing as fast as they did in 2016, they still are on pace to come in well above budget.
Estimating future sales tax collections is difficult (predicting the future tends be that way.) As a result, the city ended up being pretty conservative in terms of budgeting for 2017 sales tax revenues. It budgeted to collect about $23.8 million in city sales taxes. (It also gets a large portion of the countywide sales tax, but that’s not included in these numbers.) If the city’s sales tax collections stay on their current pace — i.e. finish the year 2.7 percent higher than last year — the city will collect about $25.4 million in city sales taxes.
That will result in about a $1.5 million surplus, or in other words, about $1.5 million that the city will receive but has not budgeted to spend in 2017. That would continue a trend. I previously did some math and estimated that from 2012 to 2016 that the city has collected at least $3.5 million more in sales and use taxes than what it budgeted to collect. If you were to add in the city’s share of the countywide sales tax, the number likely would be even higher.
That unexpected money, though, hasn’t been enough to prevent increases in the city’s property tax rate. From 2012 to 2017, the city’s property tax rate has increased from 29.5 mills to 33.2 mills.
One of the reasons the extra sales tax money hasn’t been enough to prevent property tax increases is because the city also is spending more than expected. As we reported in July, spending in the 2017 budget is expected to come in about $4 million above budget.
• In other news and notes from around town, today is Sept. 11. It has been 16 years since the terrorist attacks. On this day, I re-read an article that I wrote back in 2011. It is about a small Kansas town and the connection it made with a group of New York City firefighters who responded to the terrorist attacks there. It reminds me of our ability to connect and to be kind. If you would like to read it, click here.
Another project hoping to attract retirees files plans in west Lawrence; looking at whether local Gap store will close
Maybe the ghost of a Furr’s cafeteria roams the intersection of Sixth and Queens Road. Maybe it was the site of Lawrence’s first canasta game. Whatever the reason, the intersection is becoming a magnet for retirees and other senior living projects.
As we have reported, construction is underway on the Village Cooperatives, a 52-unit senior living facility on the southwest corner of Sixth and Queens Road. Now, plans have been filed at City Hall for a senior living project at the southeast corner of the intersection.
Robert Wilson — owner of the Lawrence-based Bridge Haven group of assisted living facilities — is seeking to rezone about 2.5 acres at 5275 W. Sixth St. to accommodate a small, gated community for active seniors or retirees.
“I can see it being more for active seniors who had a house, sold it, like to travel but still want that home setting,” said Wilson, who noted the plans are still in their early stages.
Wilson said his current thinking is the development would be about 12 to 15 units and would be marketed as more of an upscale development with a small clubhouse. Residences would be built with seniors in mind, and that means more than just wide halls, one-floor living and other such standard features. It also includes lots of storage because Wilson said he hears from seniors all the time that they “accumulate a lot of stuff,” during a lifetime. He said many of the units probably would have extra-deep two-car garages that could provide a lot of storage.
The zoning request with City Hall said the property likely would include a mix of duplexes, triplexes and four-plexes.
Unlike Bridge Haven properties, this development won’t be an assisted living facility. But Wilson said he really liked the property and saw an opportunity to do a development that is a bit different from other senior communities in town.
“I just think it is going to be a really good fit,” Wilson said. “I’ve seen it done in other towns where there is a small community for active seniors, and it is really popular.”
Wilson said he thinks the property also will be a drawing card. If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is a little slice of the country that has become surrounded by the city. A white farm house with some outbuildings sits on top of the hill on the southeast corner of the intersection.
“It is probably one of the higher lots in Lawrence,” Wilson said. “You have some great views.”
Wilson said he hopes to begin construction on the project this spring. The development still must win several approvals from City Hall. The land does not currently have the proper zoning for the development and also will require site plan approval.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I’m wearing an outfit today that may cause some people to think all clothing stores closed down sometime around 1988. That, of course, is not the case, but there is reason to wonder whether Lawrence’s Gap store is set to close.
The company earlier this week announced that it plans to close about 200 Gap and Banana Republic stores. Some of you have been asking whether the Lawrence Gap store at 643 Massachusetts is on the list of stores to close?
The simple answer is Gap has not yet released a list of stores it plans to close. The company also hasn’t released a timeline for when it will do so. Whether Lawrence will land on that list would be nothing more than a wild guess. The company is looking to close underperforming stores to address “significant and acute” sales downturns at both the Gap and Banana Republic.
Statistically, Lawrence has a good chance of avoiding closure. Gap’s parent company operates about 2,000 Gap and Banana Republic stores combined. The company plans to close 200 stores across both chains, so roughly 10 percent of the total.
One other item to keep an eye on with Gap’s parent company is plans to expand its Old Navy chain of stores. That chain has been performing better, and the company plans to open 270 new locations for Old Navy and Athleta. Old Navy used to have a store in Lawrence — where Ross is now located in the south Iowa street corridor — but it closed at the end of 2011 when the company was changing its strategy to have stores with less square footage. Old Navy, I was told by sources in the real estate industry, wanted to remain in Lawrence but was unable to renegotiate its lease for a smaller footprint. I continue to hear that the retailer is interested in returning to Lawrence. It has been publicly mentioned by the development group seeking to build retail south of the SLT and Iowa Street interchange as a retailer who would be a likely tenant for the center. Of course, there are some other vacant spaces in town too, so it will be interesting to watch whether Old Navy tries to move into one of those spaces.