It will be trains versus trolleys at Lawrence City Hall tonight. Well, sort of.
City commissioners at their meeting tonight are being asked to select three transportation projects to submit as grant applications for state funding.
Topping the list is a familiar project — renovation of the Santa Fe Depot in East Lawrence. City Hall staff members are proposing the city apply for a $1.5 million transportation enhancement grant to make necessary improvements to the station at Seventh and New Jersey streets.
But staff members also have brought up the idea of a different use for those funds — a brick street restoration in the 600 and 700 blocks of Indiana Street.
This project has a unique twist to it: Trolley tracks. In 1909 the Lawrence Light & Railway Company opened a new trolley route called Route 3, which also was dubbed “Indiana Run” because it went from Eighth and Massachusetts to Indiana Street to Fourth Street and then back.
Those trolley tracks still exist under the current asphalt pavement of the street, and they are starting to create some surface problems. The city is proposing to apply for a $660,000 transportation enhancement grant that would allow the street to be restored to its original brick street format, complete with stone curbs. And, at the moment, the city is proposing to put in new railroad ties and reinstall the original trolley rails down the middle of the street.
There’s no plan for a trolley service in the works, but the grant category is for transportation projects with a historic element. The trolley tracks fit the bill.
The state has limited funding for the grant program, and so city staff members are recommending the Santa Fe Depot project be submitted as the city’s No. 1 priority in the category. The city, however, has sought grants before to restore the 1950s-era depot, but been unsuccessful. That is in part because the city doesn’t yet own the building.
City commissioners have been reluctant to execute a low cost purchase of the station from Burlington Northern Santa Fe because it doesn’t want to be obligated to make the significant repairs needed. They rather would have a grant to help with that, but grant agencies have been reluctant to award money for a building the city does not yet own. So, we’ll likely go through the chicken-or-the-egg routine again tonight at City Hall. And we’ll discuss trains and trolleys.
Commissioners also are being asked to choose transportation projects for two other grant categories. Those choices are:
• $57,500 to restore the old stone monuments that mark the entry into the Breezedale neighborhood at 23rd and Massachusetts streets. The project is in the scenic and environmental category. It is the only project the city is recommending for that category.
• $170,000 to extend the concrete Burroughs Creek Rail Trail from East 23rd Street to East 29th Street. Currently there is an ag lime, gravel path that runs from 23rd Street to 29th Street. The proposal would replace that path with a 10-foot-wide concrete path, matching the new Burroughs Creek Trail, which starts at 23rd Street and runs north to 11th Street. City staff members are recommending this project be the city’s No. 1 priority in the bicycle and pedestrian category.
• $580,000 to build a new path from the proposed Rock Chalk Park north of Sixth and the South Lawrence Trafficway intersection to Queens Road. Eventually, the city would like to have a path that runs all the way from the Rock Chalk site to Kasold Drive. The project is in the pedestrian and bicycle category.
• $240,000 to add bike lanes to the portion of Bob Billings Parkway that runs between Wakarusa Drive and about 45 feet west of Foxfire Road. The existing median would be narrowed to make room for the bike lanes. City officials said now would be the time to add bike lanes to the road because the city plans to resurface the road in 2013. The project is in the pedestrian and bicycle category.
All of the projects would require the city to provide local funding equal to 20 percent of the project’s cost. So, for example, the city would need to come up with about $300,000 in local funding, if it were awarded the Santa Fe Depot grant.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. tonight at City Hall.
Well, it looks like dreams of Lawrence perhaps having the most picturesque Planning and Development Services offices in the country have been dashed.
There had been quite a bit of speculation in certain real estate circles that the city of Lawrence was close to buying the Abe & Jake’s Landing building that is immediately east of City Hall.
The city was interested in the building as a home for a combined office for its Planning and Development Services Department. Currently, the building permit and code enforcement portion of that department is in the former Riverfront Mall, while the planning portion of the department is in City Hall. The city has long wanted a combined office so it can have a “one-stop shop” for builders and developers doing business with the city.
And what a stop that would have been. If you have forgotten, the Abe & Jake’s building is one of the more unique in the city. The old 19th Century industry building sits along the south bank of the Kansas River and has huge windows overlooking the Kaw.
But it appears the deal is not to be. Mayor Bob Schumm confirmed to me that the city had been working for about four months on a potential purchase. But after architects brought back estimates on what it would cost to renovate the 24,000-square-foot building — which has about 50-foot-high ceilings in most places — the city recently backed away from the deal.
Schumm said he doesn’t see much chance the city will pursue the building in the future, and he said the city currently is not looking at any other locations for a joint Planning and Development Services office.
The deal would have come with an interesting twist: The city would have been buying a building it already owns. The building and property came under the ownership of the city when it purchased land in the area for City Hall. But the city in the 1990s granted Lawrence businessman Mike Elwell a low-cost, long-term lease on the building, in exchange for him making about $2 million worth of improvements to what had become an eyesore of a building.
Elwell’s lease on the building runs into 2087. The city really would have been purchasing that lease.
Elwell has made no secret that he wants to sell his rights to the building. We reported in January 2011 that the building — which basically has been an event venue and nightclub since Elwell finished the building in 2002 — was on the market for $1.3 million.
At the time, Elwell said he was receiving some interest from hotels and others who wanted to use the building as a small-scale convention center and events venue. But he said the slow economy was holding back those sort of deals. It will be interesting to see what eventually lands at Abe & Jake’s.
The fact the city was contemplating a deal for the property also brings up an interesting point. According to my sources, the city believed it could purchase and perhaps renovate the building without having to raise any taxes.
If so, this is just another reminder of how unique of a financial position the city is in. It has access to cheap money through the bond market that is lending money at historically low rates, and the city’s bond and interest fund has very sizable reserves at the moment.
Let’s do a little back-of-the-napkin math on all the projects the city has or plans to do without raising taxes: $25 million for a recreation center; about $7 million in infrastructure for the future business park at the former Farmland Industries site; let’s estimate $3 million for the Planning and Development Services offices; and then there is the approximately $300,000 per year the city says it has to cover the expected operational shortfall of the proposed recreation center. That $300,000 per year probably could finance about a $4 million bond.
That’s just off the top of my head, and the amount comes to $39 million the city can put toward a project or projects without having to raise taxes. I wonder how many folks realize how unique of a time period Lawrence city government finds itself in these days.
More on that another day.
City Hall on a Tuesday night is sometimes a good place to see an odd sight.
That may be the case tonight. When Lawrence city commissioners meet for their regular weekly meeting, Mayor Bob Schumm is scheduled to be wearing odd attire.
Schumm will be decked out in team gear from West Virginia University. The folks at city hall in Morgantown, W.Va. — home of West Virginia University — proposed a wager with Schumm. If KU won last Saturday’s football game between the two universities, Morgantown mayor would wear KU gear to his council meeting. If West Virginia won the game, Schumm would wear Mountaineer gear.
The folks at Morgantown offered a similar wager to all the other Big 12 communities. I suspect it was just their way of saying hello to their new conference neighbors and perhaps generating a little interest among conference residents about Morgantown. On that note, I wonder how many KU fans made the trip to Morgantown last weekend, and what they thought of the place. If you went, let me know your thoughts below.
In case you missed it, KU fell just a bit short on Saturday, losing 59-10. Schumm told me he has a yellow West Virginia shirt that he’ll be sporting at the meeting.
“I told them I would wear it, but I never said for how long,” Schumm said.
Schumm ought to just take his lumps and feel lucky. I’m surprised that blowout loss didn’t trigger some clause in the wager that required Schumm to wear the entire Mountaineer mascot uniform.
Though that may not have been all bad. I think the Mountaineer mascot comes with a musket and moonshine. (West Virginia officials may dispute the moonshine part of this, but anybody who has seen their atmosphere at a football game would confirm moonshine has to be involved.) I don’t know how much the musket would add, but I’m pretty sure the moonshine would improve most City Commission meetings.