Cromwell won’t seek re-election to City Commission; field of candidates taking shape as filing deadline nears
The cake is nearly baked on this year’s batch of Lawrence City Commission candidates. (I said that just to see my wife jump out of her chair at the mention of cake.)
What we have been speculating on for weeks has now become official: Lawrence City Commissioner Aron Cromwell confirmed to me that he won’t be seeking re-election.
“I want to take a break this time,” said Cromwell, who was first elected four years ago. “I want to focus on other parts of my life.”
But Cromwell said he’ll also use the time to figure out his political future, which he said he very much plans to have. Cromwell said he expects to make a run for either the Lawrence City Commission or a state position in two years.
“I have enjoyed it immensely and learned a lot,” Cromwell said. “It has been fun trying to make a difference in the community. I know I’m going to need an outlet for that again.”
Cromwell, who served a one-year term as mayor, was a major player in pushing for the expansion of the Lawrence Public Library and also led the city’s task force on revamping the city trash collection and recycling system.
Cromwell’s decision means there will be at least two new faces on the Lawrence City Commission come April. Commissioner Hugh Carter already has announced he won’t seek re-election, but instead will focus on his new job with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.
I still fully expect City Commissioner Mike Amyx to file for re-election, and to do so soon. The filing deadline is now less than a week away. The deadline is noon on Tuesday.
If Amyx does file, that will make six candidates in the field. If the field grows to seven, the city will have to have a primary election on Feb. 26 to narrow the field to six.
As it stands, the race is shaping up to be a crowded field. Fans of political contests will get their money’s worth this year, I believe. There are at least five candidates who go into the race with either strong name recognition, a strong network of supporters or both.
Amyx will be able to run as the only true incumbent in the race, and he’s certainly one of the more tested campaigners in the city. Amyx first won election to the City Commission in 1983, went to the Douglas County Commission from 1988 to 1993 and then came back to the City Commission in 2005. And it doesn’t hurt that his job as a downtown barber shop owner allows him to see hundreds and hundreds of people every week.
Former City Commissioner Rob Chestnut also has a network of campaign supporters to draw on. He served on the commission from 2007 to 2011 and was a mayor during that term. Chestnut, who is the chief financial officer for a Topeka publishing company, also will be able to run a campaign with a heavy emphasis on controlling city fiscal matters. Chestnut had a reputation as a budget hawk during his one term on the commission.
Terry Riordan enters the race with good name recognition among some Lawrence residents who have ever had to take a sick kid to the doctor. Riordan has been a Lawrence pediatrician since 1983. It also is worth noting that Lawrence Mayor Bob Schumm was at Riordan’s announcement. I would expect Schumm, who was the top-vote winner in the election two years ago, to be a strong supporter of Riordan and to provide him some help in setting up a campaign structure.
The entrance of Jeremy Farmer, the executive director of Just Food, into the race will be one of the more interesting developments to watch. Farmer has built up some name recognition among the social service community during his nearly two years on the job. And a lot of potential voters come through the doors of the food bank.
But the more interesting element will be to see how powerful of a network the newly formed Cadre Lawrence group has become. Farmer is listed as a founding board member of the group, which started becoming active last summer. The group has a mission of helping create a more positive voice when it comes to growth and economic development in the city. When the group began, organizers told me that it wouldn’t be the type of organization that endorses candidates or raises money for campaigns. But, of course, individual members of the group can be active supporters of candidates. Already, the group has shown a strong ability to turn out people for City Commission meetings and other events; plus it has a very active social media and Web presence in the community.
Scott Criqui, an executive with a Lawrence-based home health care company, also has experience in creating networks in the community. Criqui has been fairly active in other City Commission campaigns during the last couple of election cycles, and has met a lot of people that way. Plus, Criqui understands the organizing process. He was a major player in organizing the effort that led to the city adding legal protections to its anti-discrimination ordinance for people who are transgendered. And Criqui has a head start in the race. He broke all sorts of records for being the earliest candidate to file for the race. He filed his paperwork in June, and has been raising money ever since.
Lawrence attorney Michael Rost doesn’t have some of the name recognition of the other candidates, but it sounds like he will run a campaign that features a strongly conservative financial platform. Plus, Rost is adding another issue into his race: the power and influence of campaign contributions. Rost told me recently that he is pledging not to accept any campaign contributions.
“In order to make the right decisions for Lawrence, it is crucial that the members of the City Commission speak for the community as a whole, not any particular interest groups,” Rost said.
So, the campaigns already are starting to take on their own interesting dynamics. And we haven’t even got into the issues yet.
Get ready. Election season is here. (But dear, sit down. Really, there’s no cake.)
City commissioners to consider request for more retail zoning near proposed site of recreation center, sports park
It is beginning to look more and more like Lawrence won’t just be getting a new sports complex and recreation center in northwest Lawrence, but will be getting a new retail area as well.
Tonight’s meeting of the Lawrence City Commission will go a long way in determining whether that is true. Commissioners tonight will be hearing another request from a group led by Lawrence businessmen Duane and Steve Schwada to rezone 146 acres on the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway for retail uses.
Yes, that was the piece of ground that originally was going to house the city’s 181,000 square-foot recreation center and KU’s track and field stadium and soccer field. When those plans were being touted as the greatest thing since Danny Manning’s baby hook shot, city officials were in favor of allowing retail zoning on the property. The idea was that such a sports complex would need to have some hotels, restaurants and other uses to support visitors.
But soon enough, those plans fell by the wayside. The city, KU and private developer/financier Thomas Fritzel banded together and changed the plans for the project.
The project in September made a sudden change in direction when KU said it no longer was interested in the site on the northwest corner of the intersection but instead had decided on a larger site near the northeast corner that could accommodate more facilities. City commissioners said they were interested in having their recreation center be on that side of the road too.
At that time, four out of the five city commissioners said the change in direction meant there no longer was a need for retail zoning on Schwada’s property.
That left the Schwadas with a piece of property that had just recently been annexed into the city, but doesn’t have any city zoning attached to it.
Schwada ended up looking like the kid standing on the playground after the other kids had left and taken their ball with them. But Duane Schwada is one of the more successful developers in this town, and it hasn’t taken long for folks to realize he has his own ball he can bring to this game.
Over the last few months, representatives of Schwada have been making the case that nothing really has changed in regards to the need for certain types of retail development — again, think hotels, restaurants, gas stations and such — to support this sports park. If anything, since the project has become larger, the need for supporting retail has grown.
Originally city commissioners believed the adjacent Mercato development would have plenty of capacity to support the sports park. After all, it is zoned for retail already, and it is empty.
But here are the two things to remember about the Mercato development: It is controlled by Schwada, and it is zoned and planned for a specific type of retail development — big box stores. Currently, the development is the only one in the city that can boast of shovel-ready sites for new big box stores in Lawrence. That zoning and development plan was hard won, and representatives for Schwada have indicated he’s not going to change those plans simply to accommodate a hotel or a restaurant or other types of smaller users.
But he would accommodate those type of users on the 146 acres on the northwest corner of the intersection. I suspect he also could accommodate another big box store or two on that site, especially since a 181,000 square-foot recreation center won’t be taking up any space on the property. (UPDATE: As I read through some of the proposed zoning language, there may be some limitations on big box stores at the site, depending on how large you consider a big box store to be. There probably will be more details tonight.)
Whether the development ought to get that type of zoning or not, is where city commissioners are at tonight. The Planning Commission has been split on the matter. In October, it voted 4-3 to recommend denial of the retail zoning for the corner. But then in November, it passed a new recommendation that essentially asked the City Commission to send the issue back to the Planning Commission for more in-depth review.
I don’t have a good sense about what city commissioners may do tonight. But it does appear clear that there is more consideration being given to making that corner a future retail hub than what was the case a few months ago.
Now, whether retail zoning will produce any new retail development at that corner in the near future is another question. Extending infrastructure to that site is expensive because some of it has to cross the highway. City officials were going to cover a lot of that cost when the recreation center was going to be located there. It is presumed now that any development on the corner would require the developers to pay for the infrastructure extension. But that’s not tonight’s battle, and, as this project has shown, everything is subject to change.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. tonight at City Hall.
Developer of Poehler building looking to file plans for new 34-unit affordable apartment project in East Lawrence
Tonight will be another big night for the Warehouse Arts District, which is what the area around the old Poehler Building at Eighth and Pennsylvania streets is being called.
As we reported last week, city commissioners tonight will consider investing several hundred thousand dollars into infrastructure repairs in the area to accommodate the latest phase of the project.
But the project will be well worth watching beyond tonight. The district’s lead developer, Tony Krsnich, confirmed to me that he soon will file plans for a brand new 34-unit apartment building for the area.
Krsnich said he has completed a deal to buy the vacant property directly south of the Poehler Building from Lawrence landowner Harold Shepherd. (If you are familiar with the area, the property is the one with the big Cottonwood tree on it, near the new city-built parking lot for the area.
The project isn’t an entirely done deal, though. Krsnich said he’ll file plans next month with the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, which is the group that hands out federal tax credits for affordable housing projects.
The housing credit program is a competitive one, and the Lawrence project will be competing against others across the state. Krsnich, though, had luck in winning credits from the program when he converted the old Poehler building into a 49-unit affordable apartment project.
It looks like Krsnich also is trying to sweeten the pot a bit with this application. He said the plans call for Lawrence-based Tenants to Homeowners to be a partner on this project. I haven’t yet had a chance to talk to the leaders of Tenants to Homeowners to find out exactly what its role will be, but the organization has a lot of credibility in the affordable housing sector in the state.
Krsnich also can point to the fact that demand for rent-controlled apartments in the Poehler building has been very strong. The project had all its leases filled within about 12 hours of taking applications.
“I think I’ll have this project filled up in about 11 hours,” said Krsnich, who said he at one point had a waiting list of about 100 for the Poehler project.
If the new project does get tax credits — and I’m not sure it will move forward if it doesn’t — the apartments will be required to be rent-controlled for at least 30 years. I’m not sure exactly which tax credit program the project will apply for, but most of them work in such a way that rents must be deemed affordable for households earning 60 percent or less of the local median income.
If you are not familiar with how the tax credit program works, projects like this one are awarded tax credits that they then can sell to investors who want to reduce their tax liabilities. The state’s Web site estimates that developers currently are receiving about 77 cents on the dollar for each $1 worth of tax credits.
Developers use the money from the sale of the tax credits to invest in their projects, which reduces the amount of debt they have to take out and makes it feasible to rent apartments at below market-rate rents.
I believe the state has about $60 million in tax credits available to award this year. It looks like winners will be announced in May.
The best way to travel Iowa Street this summer will be via helicopter.
City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting are set to approve the city’s 2013 street maintenance program. No surprise here: Iowa Street will be the star of the show this year.
As we have reported multiple times, Iowa Street from Yale Road to the Irving Hill overpass will be reduced to one lane in each direction while crews rebuild that stretch of road. The city also will close Bob Billings/15th Street where it intersects with Iowa from May 20 through mid-August to add turning lanes and other intersection improvements.
So yes, the northern stretches of Iowa Street may be a little stressful for awhile; the entire project is expected to last from Feb. 1 to mid-November. But at least, you’re thinking, you’ll be able to relieve some of that pent-up stress by buying boxes of Moon Pies and other assorted goodies at Walmart and all the other retailers on South Iowa Street. (What? You try telling a certain someone in my household that the best stress therapy doesn't come in a Moon Pie box.)
Well, you’ll still be able to buy, buy, buy on South Iowa Street, but you may have to endure some wait, wait, wait to get there.
The city is set to spend $600,000 — about $200,000 of it is coming from state funds — to do deep patching and a complete repaving of Iowa Street from 29th Street to the southern city limits. Work is expected to begin May 21 and last through Aug. 16, although you never know about those dates. The city basically says it will start projects after KU classes are dismissed for the summer and be completed by the time KU classes begin for the fall.
The road will remain open during the project, but expect some lane disruptions. The two Iowa Street projects may be the most visible this summer, but there will be others. Here’s a look at what else is on the city’s 2013 street maintenance plan:
• A major reconstruction of the Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive intersection. The latest plans I’ve seen call for Wakarusa Drive to be closed a couple hundred feet both north and south of Bob Billings Parkway. In other words, motorists who want to go the full length of Wakarusa Drive will need to take a detour through the business park area that is just west of Wakarusa.
• The city will keep motorists on Bob Billings Parkway on their toes. In addition to the intersection work, the city will do a complete repaving of the section of Bob Billings Parkway just west of Wakarusa. Based on the map I’ve seen, it looks like the repaving will stop just east of Legends Drive.
• Several residential streets south of Harvard Road, north of Bob Billings Parkway, west of Kasold and east of Wakarusa Drive will get a microsurface treatment. The process involves putting a thin layer of pavement over the street to seal cracks and such.
• East Lawrence also will get in on the act with several streets east of Connecticut, west of Haskell and north of 15th Street getting repaved. There’s also some curb work slated for the area, and one brick street restoration. (I’m checking on which street.)
• The area between Louisiana and Massachusetts Streets, south of 19th but north of 23rd Street, also will have multiple streets that get repaved and some concrete curb repair work.
I could throw more directions at you, or I could just let you click here to see a complete map of the city’s proposed 2013 street program.
Maybe a new streak is about to begin.
Last year at this time we were reporting how the Lawrence homebuilding industry had hit a new low. In 2011, Lawrence builders saw their streak of at least 55 years in a row of building 100 homes or more snapped. Builders started just 95 single-family homes in Lawrence in 2011.
Well, the old hammer had a little bounce back in 2012. Almost 95 percent of the time when a hammer bounces back, it involves a large bandage on my forehead. But this time a bounce back is good. Builders in 2012 started 123 single-family building permits.
In fact, the 123 housing starts is the second highest total in the last five years. The city had dipped to 102 single-family housing starts in 2008, and 110 in 2009. The only year the homebuilding industry seemed to have any positive momentum was in 2010, when a first-time homebuyers credit helped perk the market up temporarily. The city had 146 single-family housing starts that year.
The last five years have been kind of like a two-by-four to the head for most homebuilders. (That reminds me of another home improvement project I did once, but for some reason, I’m hazy on the details.) The city used to routinely be near 300 single-family housing permits per year, and on a few occasions topped the 400 level. Those days are gone, but nobody is ready to concede yet that 100 to 125 housing starts per year is the new normal for Lawrence.
What 2013 brings for the industry will be interesting to watch. I would think this is the year that builders may believe they can get back to that level of 150 housing starts in a year. If somehow they could get to 200, everybody would breath a lot easier.
As for other numbers from the city’s 2012 building permit report, here’s a look:
• The city issued permits for $100.65 million worth of projects in 2012. That’s down from $107.76 million in 2011.
• One category of projects that saw a bump in 2012: Projects funded with public money. The city issued building permits for $8.97 million worth of publicly funded construction projects. That’s up from $7.96 million in 2011. Those projects can be projects funded with city tax dollars, construction at Lawrence Memorial Hospital or other smaller projects by government agencies. Generally, the project must involve some type of structure in order for it receive a building permit. The category, for example, doesn’t include road projects or waterline work. Indeed, the second largest project of the year was a publicly funded one: A $4.8 million permit for the new parking garage that will be next to the expanded Lawrence Public Library.
• The city issued permits for 184 apartment units in 2012, down from 355 in 2011. Two of the five largest dollar projects in the city, however, were apartment projects in 2011 — the Westfield Place Apartments in the 200 block of Eisenhower Drive, and the Varsity House Apartments in the Oread neighborhood.
• Permits for remodeling projects, both commercial and residential, grew in 2012. The city issued 345 remodeling permits, up from 317 in 2011.
• Even though the total value of projects constructed in Lawrence was down for the year, the city saw a slight increase in the amount of building permit fees in collected in 2012. That’s in large part because the city saw an increase in the total number of permits applied for during the year. The city collected $735,564 in building permit fees, up from $705,173 in 2011.
There were 17 building projects in the city that had a value of $1 million or more in 2012. Here’s a look:
• Westfield Place Apartments, 204 Eisenhower Drive: $8.32 million
• Public Parking Garage, 707 Vermont St.: $4.8 million
• Theatre Lawrence building, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive: $4 million
• Varsity House Apartments, 1043 Indiana St.: $3.98 million
• Del Monte Addition, 727 N. Iowa St.: $1.9 million
• Briggs Dodge remodel, 2300 W. 29th Terrace: $1.64 million
• LMH North Wing remodel, 325 Maine: $1.5 million
• Raintree Montessori School addition, 4601 Clinton Parkway: $1.4 million
• Hy-Vee convenience store, 3900 W. 24th Place: $1.4 million
• Advantage Metal Recycling, 1545 N. Third St.: $1.3 million
• Retail shell building for Papa Murphy’s and others, 650 Congressional Drive: $1.3 million
• Kia of Lawrence addition, 1225 E. 23rd St.: $1.25 million
• Briggs Nissan, 2300 W. 29th Terrace: $1.2 million
• Single-family dwelling, 1714 Lake Alvamar Drive: $1.1 million
• Single-family dwelling, 133 Running Ridge Road: $1 million
• Retail shell building for Starbucks and others, 4701 Bauer Farm Drive: $1 million.
• St. John School addition, 1208 Kentucky St.: $1 million.
City, county moving forward on marketing strategy to attract retirees; $60,000 to $80,000 annual media campaign may be on tap
The business of attracting lucrative retirees to live in Lawrence and Douglas County is beginning to get a clearer price tag.
It looks like it will take around $60,000 to $80,000 worth of advertising a year to get the job done.
Lawrence city commissioners at their Tuesday meeting are being asked to approve a contract with the Lawrence-based Kern Group to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy to convince higher-end retirees that Lawrence and Douglas County are great places to settle.
The company — which is led by advertising and marketing veteran Mark Kern — will create a title/slogan for the effort, a logo, a Web site, a package of marketing materials to provide to interested retirees, and concepts for radio, television, print and Internet ads.
The proposed contract calls for that work to cost $34,500, with the city and the county splitting the costs. But the more substantial commitment comes in the form of an annual advertising budget that Kern estimates will need to be in the $60,000 to $80,000 range each year. At least a couple of years of that type of spending, but maybe four or five, may be in order, the proposal suggest. Kern has suggested a good amount of that money, however, can come from private partners in the community that would benefit by having a larger retiree presence in the city. Creating a list of those potential partners is one of the things Kern will do as part of the initial contract.
It will be interesting to see what type of slogan or tag line the marketing folks come up with for Lawrence and Douglas County. Maybe: Lawrence: Where ’Hawks Come to Roost and Retire. Or DOuglas County: We DO retirement. Or since edgy seems to be all the rage in advertising these days: Lawrence: Where Keg Stands aren’t Just for the Young. (Yeah, I don’t understand why the advertising people never invite me to lunch.)
Expect whatever campaign develops (I haven’t yet trademarked the ones above, but you had better hurry) to have a strong element designed to attract KU alumni. Kern’s proposal calls for developing advertising that would work well in various KU publications, such as the Alumni Association and KU Endowment’s magazines. Plus, the marketers will look at developing television advertising to run in the other regional cities that televise Jayhawk sporting events.
Douglas County leaders are optimistic that attracting the right type of retiree will greatly increase the amount of disposable income in Lawrence and Douglas County and provide a boost to area businesses.
This marketing contract is just the latest budget item to come up related to the retiree efforts. The city and county earlier agreed to restructure the Douglas County Senior Services Board and put it in charge of overseeing the Web site and the retiree attraction efforts.
As a result, Lawrence and Douglas County also have both expressed a willingness to provide additional funding to Douglas County Senior Services as it seeks to hire a new director that has the skill set to lead the retiree attraction program. It previously has been estimated that could require the salary of the approximately $55,000 a year position to be boosted by $15,000 to $25,000 a year to attract the right candidate.
City commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday. Maybe by then I’ll have some other slogans. Oooh, got one: Lawrence: Where You’re Never Old Enough to Know Better.
Another week almost down, which means another week of property sales and land transfers as recorded by the Douglas County Register of Deeds office.
You can click here to see the complete list of sales for the week ending Jan. 7.
There were a few sales of note, but before we get to that, here’s my standard disclaimer: Unless otherwise noted, most of this information is just me relaying information from various public documents from the Douglas County Courthouse and the Kansas Secretary of State’s office. In an effort to be timely, it is not always possible to contact everyone involved. It is not always easy to ascertain what is going on with a property just by looking at documents, so I would read these listings as a first draft of activity in the local real estate market.
Here’s a look at activity of note in this most recent report:
• Significant downtown investment group Jayhawk Equities LLC has sold its property at 1105 and 1107 Massachusetts St. The location houses Its Brothers Bar & Grill. I haven’t heard any word of changes at Its Brothers, so it may just be that the downtown bar is getting a new set of landlords, but we’ll keep an eye on the location. The property was purchased by Georg Heidelmann (no, I didn’t forget the ‘e’) and Kelda Jackson. According to listings on the Web, Heidelmann and Jackson are from Kansas City. Heidelmann has been listed as the president of Kansas City-based Adapt Laser Systems, a company that provides laser cleaning technology to companies across North America.
• A corner property near Ninth and Iowa Streets has changed hands. The property at 845 Iowa St. — which houses The Selection used auto dealership, has been purchased by a group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton and other investors. No word on whether there will be a change in use at the site, which was a former Sinclair gasoline station and sat vacant for quite awhile until the used car company opened in early 2011. I believe my memory is correct on this, but I think a group led by Compton owned the site before the auto dealership purchased the property. UPDATE: Bob Sarna at Compton's First Management has told me that this latest transfer is just a step in a transaction that will ultimately put the property under the full ownership of the group that runs The Selection auto dealership. So it looks like the dealership is solidifying its position at the location. This is a good example of why I put the disclaimer at the top of this article, because as the county courthouse officials explained to me, this sale is actually a contract sale, where Compton's group actually already owns the property and is selling to the auto group, but it doesn't necessarily show up that way in the county's land transfer listings.
• A lot of people must have washed their cars recently. That’s the only way to explain why this water has started falling from the sky again. (I can’t remember, what do the weather people call that?) Well, in Eudora, the largest car wash in the city has a new owner. Capital City Bank has sold the car wash at 1428 Church St. to Eudora Car Wash LLC, which is a group led by Lawrence businessman Christopher Wagner.
In recent weeks, we’ve written about how you might want to keep your eyes open for a future shake-up in the Lawrence Internet service provider market. City officials recently agreed to hire a consultant to study whether the city can use the miles of city-owned fiber optic cable to create more competition in the Internet service provider field in Lawrence.
If anything happens on that front, it will take awhile to develop. But maybe the first shake-up will come in Eudora and parts of rural Douglas County.
Salina-based Kansas Broadband Internet is making a new push to enter the Eudora market and the parts of rural Douglas County that are south and east of Lawrence.
The company provides wireless broadband service using the 1,000-foot tall tower that is kind of near Mt. Blue between Eudora and Lawrence. Or for those of you not up on your topographical points of interest, it is that big tall tower that is off in the distance behind the little ski lake that is adjacent to Kansas Highway 10. (Don’t tell me you don’t know where the ski lake is. I know you crane your neck all summer long to see the latest in swimsuit fashions, while geographical scholars like myself admire the beauty of Mt. Blue.)
Kansas Broadband has offered some service in the area for awhile, but in late 2012 it installed new equipment on the tower — which is one of the tallest in the county — to increase its service capabilities.
Dave Gleason, Kansas Broadband’s director of marketing and sales, told me recently that the company plans to offer service within a 12-mile radius of the tower. But there is one big exception to that rule: The company isn’t planning on offering the service in any parts of Lawrence.
“With our wireless service, it works better if we stay out of the larger towns,” Gleason said. “We don’t want our frequency getting interfered with.”
But Gleason said the company does plan on offering service to most of Eudora, and certainly to the rural households in the county that may not have good access to landline-based Internet systems.
Now on the technical part of this, I may not be the best person to relay the detail. (I keep telling myself that I’m going to really dig in and understand all these bits and bytes and other Internet terms as soon as I finish up my other technological project — mastering the recording process on my VHS.)
But I’ll give this a shot. Gleason said the slowest service the company offers is 1 megabit of service but it also offers service levels of 2 megabits and 3 megabits. He also said something about those speeds being for both uploading and downloading, and that the service had no data caps. (In case you are wondering, though, he was no help in how to set a delayed recording on a Zenith VHS player.)
Prices, he said, range from $39.99 per month to $69.99 per month.
Gleason didn’t rule out expanding to other parts of the county, although, he didn’t say anything that makes me believe the company is going to become a major player inside of Lawrence.
“We’re going to see how things go for a bit,” Gleason said. “We have done some research and it looks like this is the area that is in most need right now. But the thing about us is that we’re always growing.”
The company has been in business since 2009, and currently serves about 70 different communities in 30 Kansas counties, mainly from Salina eastward.
I think it will be interesting to watch whether other companies like this pop up in the area, and also just how aggressive community leaders become in promoting the idea that the area’s broadband infrastructure needs to go to another level. My impression is that there are some city commissioners who feel like broadband infrastructure is going to become a more critical part of economic development in the future.
But, I may be wrong. After all, I just got done watching 90 minutes of PBS’ "Knitting with Minnie Pearl." That’s definitely not what I thought I taped.
Downtown Lawrence sculpture exhibit to receive boost in city funding to celebrate 25th year; entries now being accepted
This year will mark 25 years of walking around a corner in downtown Lawrence and saying “What the . . .”
I’m talking about the 25th Annual Outdoor Downtown Sculpture Exhibition. (Although, it is downtown Lawrence, so I could be talking about any number of things.)
But pieces of sculpture have been creating conversations, smiles and sometimes head-scratching in downtown Lawrence for almost a quarter-century. (I had a love-hate relationship one year with a sculpture shaped like a giant sphere. It reminded me of a doughnut hole. I gained 15 pounds during that year’s show.)
The Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission put out its call for entries for the show this morning. And City Hall officials also confirmed that they are going to provide a bit more financial support for the show this year in honor of its 25th anniversary.
The city will provide an extra $5,000 in city funding to support the show, which will allow the honorarium paid to artists to increase from $750 to $1,200.
For the first time in perhaps ever, the show also will be limited to artists who have a local connection. Only artists that live within a 15 mile radius of Lawrence will be allowed to submit an entry for the show. In the past, the event has attracted artists from across the country.
“This year, the committee wanted to do something special by showcasing the talents of local artists,” said Diane Stoddard, an assistant city manager who serves as the staff liaison for the Arts Commission.
Porter Arneill, public art administrator for Kansas City, Mo., will serve as the juror of the show, and is expected to select eight pieces for display.
All work must be free-standing, of sound design and suitable for long-term outdoor public display without external support. The show will open on June 15 and run through April 2014.
Entries are being accepted now. Artists can find entry information on the city’s website. The deadline for entries is 4 p.m. on Feb. 22.
The city provides funding for the show with money from its Special Recreation Fund. The Special Recreation Fund receives its funding from a portion of the state taxes collected on liquor sales made in Lawrence bars and restaurants.
So, if you are worried about the extra $5,000, here’s a solution: Make sure one of the sculptures looks like a giant BBQ hot wing. Using my “summer of doughnut holes” as a guide, the show will pay for itself through extra beer sales.
Recreation center debate causes commissioner to question ‘relevance’ of Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods; other notes from last night’s Rock Chalk Park meeting
There will be all types of shots taken at the proposed Rock Chalk Park and the city’s $25 million recreation center. There will be bank shots, hook shots, 33-foot three-point shots, that come up three feet short, taken by my teammate who never passes the ball. You get the idea.
But at Tuesday night’s City Commission meeting, the project created one other type of shot: a shot over the bow.
City Commissioner Hugh Carter delivered one to the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods. The group had issued a formal statement criticizing how the city was moving forward with the project. Specifically, it called for the commission to hold a citywide election on the issue and questioned the proposed process that will allow the $25 million recreation center to be built using a bidding process that significantly deviates from the city’s open-bidding policy.
Carter on Tuesday said that he had read that statement and wished he could give it more weight. But he said he’s no longer convinced that LAN is representative of neighborhoods across the city.
“I’m concerned about the relevance of LAN at this point,” Carter said.
Carter pointed to the group’s letter that stated the association met and unanimously voted on the group’s position. But Carter questioned what that really meant. He said if LAN was representative of neighborhoods in the city, that would suggest that the majority of people in every neighborhood in the city were against this project. He called that idea “inconceivable.”
Of course, what I think the letter meant was that every voting member of LAN who was at the meeting voted in favor of the organization’s statement expressing concern about the project. The question is how many people actually were there to vote?
I asked that question shortly after the group came up with the statement, but I don’t have a real firm answer on it. About 20 people attended the LAN meeting, but not all of them are voting members. Generally, anybody can attend a LAN meeting, but you have to be appointed by your neighborhood association as a representative to LAN before you can vote. I don’t think LAN President Laura Routh was trying to hide the vote total when I asked her about it. I just think she didn’t have her meeting notes in front of her when I contacted her. She did say, though, that it was a well-attended meeting by LAN standards.
The idea that the organization has become more of an east Lawrence/central Lawrence dominated organization isn’t a new one. But it is not often that a city commissioner calls it out as publicly as Carter did on Tuesday.
“My feeling is that LAN is becoming more of a faction and more polarizing,” said Carter, who is leaving the commission in April when his term expires. He recently was named as the new vice president of external affairs for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.
It will be interesting to watch relations between LAN and City Hall in the next few months. I don’t know enough about LAN’s current membership to provide insight on its reach across the city. It has, at times, had a good reach into west Lawrence. It was pretty active in that area during the time the city was debating whether to build a new Walmart at Sixth and Wakarusa.
It wasn’t long ago that you normally could count on someone with fairly strong LAN ties being a significant candidate for a City Commission seat each election. But that trend has diminished some the last couple of elections.
Routh is a newly elected president for LAN, and that will be interesting to watch too. In the past she has frequently questioned the City Commission on several issues ranging from operations of the police department to transparency at City Hall.
Whether LAN becomes more or less of a player at City Hall remains to be seen. One thing that is certain is that my basketball buddy will be looking up what a “shot over the bow” is. If there is a shot to be taken — and missed — he certainly wants to know about it.
While we’re on the subject, here are a couple of other news items and notes from the Rock Chalk Park debate last night at City Hall:
• City commissioners agreed 5-0 that they aren’t planning on putting the idea of a $25 million recreation center project to a citywide vote. Commissioners conceded they have been questioned by residents about it, but they are sticking to the position they previously have expressed.
That position is that because the project isn’t raising any new taxes a vote isn’t necessary. The city held citywide elections related to sales tax increases for the T, for public infrastructure, and most recently for a property tax increase to expand the Lawrence Public Library.
But all of those projects involved tax increases. This project will be paid for through existing revenues from a sales tax approved by voters in 1994 for recreation and other projects. Some residents, however, have argued that given the city will be adding $25 million worth of debt to its books for this project, that a vote would be appropriate.
Commissioners on Tuesday indicated they were concerned about setting a precedent that every large project had to be subject to a citywide vote. Instead, they said they believed residents still supported the idea of electing commissioners to make those types of decisions.
City Commissioner Mike Amyx went along with the statement, but he said he would support putting the issue to a vote, if a significant number of residents presented a petition seeking a vote. Details on how many people would need to sign weren’t clear.
• City Manager David Corliss did alert commissioners that they likely will see a request in the coming weeks for industrial revenue bonds related to the Rock Chalk Park project and Thomas Fritzel’s entity, Bliss Sports, that will be building and financing the facilities for KU.
The idea of an IRB for the project has come up before but hasn’t got a lot of attention because the project was still working its way through other issues. Industrial revenue bonds have to be issued by the city, but the city is not financially obligated to pay those bonds in case of a default. Private companies often seek the bonds because they provide lower financing rates and some tax advantages. For example, construction materials are exempt from sales tax, if the project is being paid for with industrial revenue bonds.
• Ernie Shaw, the leader of the city’s parks and recreation department provided a new set of numbers to city commissioners last night to try to alleviate concerns that the proposed 181,000 square-foot, eight-gym recreation center would be too large.
He said new numbers for 2012 showed that the city had 123 youth basketball teams in parks and recreation programs, with about 1,200 kids participating. In total about 500 games were played, and the department tries to provide gym space for at least one hour of practice per week for each team. Currently, the city essentially owns three gyms where it can provide those practice sessions and relies heavily on use of school district gyms to accommodate both the teams.
The department also has about 155 adult basketball teams in its program and about 200 volleyball teams, Shaw said.
“I’ve been here 40 years now, and I can tell you that we continue to fill up our facilities,” Shaw said. “It is not a stretch to think that parks and recreation, that the community, needs a facility this size.”