New owner plans to convert site of troubled North Lawrence mobile home park into single-family neighborhood
Anybody who has ever done a home improvement project with me knows that sometimes you’ve got to make things look a bit worse before they start looking better. (Chad's unofficial home improvement motto: Heck yeah, we need to tear down that wall.)
That seems to be where a once-troubled mobile home park in North Lawrence finds itself. The former Riverview Trailer Park at 827 Walnut St. is in bits and pieces as salvage crews have started dismantling abandoned mobile homes in order to prepare the site for a new single-family housing development.
Mark Bowden of Bowden Complete Construction LLC confirmed to me that he has finalized a deal to purchase the trailer park, which the city cited with multiple sanitation and environmental code violations in April and shut down in August.
But Bowden said he is about to call an end to the salvage part of the operations and bring in heavy equipment to finish the job.
“A day with a big loader out there is going to make the place look a lot better,” Bowden said.
He anticipates cleanup will be completed by Monday. After that, work will begin on creating a new set of plans for the property. Those plans will include building a cul-de-sac through the middle of the property and building 11 single-family homes along the new stretch of road.
Bowden said he anticipates the new houses will be three-bedroom, two-bath homes with two-car garages, and will be priced in the $120,000 range.
“We think they are going to fly off the shelf,” Bowden said.
The new neighborhood will continue a trend of the area — which is near the eastern portion of North Lawrence’s Kansas River levee — becoming a hub for starter housing. Lawrence’s Habitat for Humanity several years ago built a single-family starter housing development, the Comfort Neighborhood, just east of Bowden's land.
Folks in that neighborhood ought to welcome the change. The problems at the Riverview Trailer Park had become one of the city’s messier housing problems in recent years. When city inspectors arrived in April, they found some trailers were emptying raw sewage directly onto the ground and children were congregating around the pools of waste. Faulty electrical wiring and large amounts of debris also were common in the approximately 20 trailers at the park.
Eventually, the city declared that the mobile home park no longer had a valid city permit to operate, and ordered the park closed. By August, all residents had moved out, but left behind were most of the deteriorating trailers, and often piles of discarded personal possessions ranging from old couches to broken toys, and even a toilet on a front porch.
City officials were contemplating undertaking the expense to clean up the property, and hoping to recoup their costs through special assessments placed on future property tax bills. But the city held up on taking that action as it became clear that the mobile home site was drawing interest from potential buyers.
Bowden is paying the cost of cleaning up the property. The property previously was owned by George Warren, a California-based investor. Terms of the recent sale of the park weren’t disclosed, but we previously had reported that the approximately 1-acre tract was on the market for about $190,000.
My understanding is the property already is zoned to accommodate the proposed single-family housing development, but city planners will have to approve specific plans for the development. He said he hopes to start building houses by June.
As I watch the snow on my sidewalk continue to not melt, the summer staple of a homegrown tomato sure sounds good right about now.
This summer, you may have a new farmers market location to buy one. Well, sort of.
Leaders with the Lawrence Farmers Market are proposing a plan to city commissioners to move their Tuesday and Thursday markets to a new downtown location.
Market board members want to move the weekday markets to a spot that is closer to their Saturday market, which is held in the long-term city parking lot in the 800 block of New Hampshire street.
But during the weekdays, that lot is heavily used by downtown employees, so market organizers are proposing a twist. They want city permission to set up vendor booths in the wide grassy area that is between the long-term lot and Rhode Island Street. If your internal Google map is not functioning currently, the area is the city right-of-way just east of the parking lot. It currently serves as a landscaped buffer area between Rhode Island Street and the sidewalk that runs along the eastern edge of the parking lot.
Market organizers estimate the 3,000-square-foot area could accommodate a dozen or so vendor booths. That will put the booths fairly close to the street, but Rhode Island is one of the lesser traveled streets in downtown. City commissioners are expected to receive the request at a special year-end meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday. (Yes, I know the year ended on Tuesday, but perhaps City Hall is using Congress’ Fiscal Cliff calendar.)
Commissioners are expected to ask staff members to study the feasibility of the proposed location.
Whether it is this location or somewhere else, the market will need a new space for its Tuesday market. It has been held for many years in the city parking lot in the 1000 block of Vermont Street. The lot hasn’t traditionally attracted many vehicles, so there always has been plenty of room for the market.
But that has changed. Treanor Architects has completed its project to convert the former Strong’s Office Supply building into a new headquarters for the architecture firm.
The completely revamped and expanded building — which is just south of the parking lot — is now open and housing about 60 employees. Parking demand in the lot has become significantly higher.
The proposed change, however, also represents a shift in strategy for the farmers market’s Thursday event. Last year the market used Thursdays to hold a West Lawrence market at 1121 Wakarusa Drive.
I haven’t yet chatted with any board members of the market, but the group’s letter to City Hall indicates the organization wants to again focus on downtown.
“The Lawrence Farmers Market has a need to regain a cohesive identity as a single market at a single location,” according to the letter. “Moving the weekday markets to 800 Rhode Island is the simplest, cheapest and most effective way to improve our marketing, reduce administrative costs and serve a broader customer base.”
Market organizers are asking that about 10 of the parking spaces in the city’s long-term lot in the 800 block of New Hampshire be reserved as a loading and unloading area for market vendors.
It will be interesting to see if the city gives the green light to the new plan. Early on, there had been some talk about moving the Farmers Market to the new outdoor plaza area that will be created as part of the $19 million public library expansion.
The plans for the parking garage include public restrooms, which were thought to be a drawing card for the farmers market.
But the farmers market may get its restrooms at its current location. A representative with the development group that plans to build a multi-story apartment building at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets previously has indicated the ground floor of the building will include restrooms designed to serve the adjacent farmers market.
I’m guessing that both the development group — which is led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor — and market organizers are keen on the idea of the market staying near the Ninth and New Hampshire intersection.
The intersection already has one multi-story apartment building and plans are in the work for one more, plus a multi-story, extended stay hotel. That’s a lot of new residents who would be within walking distance of the market.
It also will be interesting to see what the move may do to the Cottin’s Hardware Farmers Market. Last year the hardware store at 1832 Massachusetts St. hosted a popular market in its parking lot from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays.
I guess time will tell on that one. Now, the question is whether time will clear my sidewalk of snow, or will my wife stick a snow shovel in my hands?
Freebirds Burrito set to open Jan. 31 in downtown Lawrence; company looking for co-tenant for building
There’s a search underway for a new nesting partner. No, the search isn’t for me. (It was a long vacation, but my wife didn’t tire of me so much that she kicked me out of the nest.)
I’m talking about a different bird: Freebirds Burrito. As we reported in July, restaurant chain Freebirds World Burrito has signed a deal to locate in a portion of the former Maurices building at 739 Massachusetts St. in downtown, and now is looking for a co-tenant for the space.
We reported this summer that the restaurant was set to open by the end of October, and then Freebirds seemed to become about as grounded as the KU football team’s passing game did this fall.
Well, work is clearly underway now, and a spokeswoman with Freebirds told me the restaurant is scheduled to open near the end of January, and I’ve since seen where the company’s website is listing Jan. 31 as the store’s grand opening date.
Caitlin Noble — director of marketing for Kansas City-based FBMidwest Development, which is the franchisee for Freebirds in the Midwest — confirmed Freebirds will take about two-thirds of the former Maurices building. The other third will be left for another tenant. Noble said another tenant hasn’t yet been found. No word yet on whether Freebirds is open to another restaurant locating in the spot, or whether they will hold out for a more traditional retailer. My understanding is that Freebirds is in control of the space because it has leased the entire building and will sublease the remaining space.
For those of you who have forgotten what the heck a Freebird is, it is more than just a really long Lynyrd Skynyrd song that disc jockeys play when they need to take a bathroom break.
But it is a little funky like Skynyrd. According to the company’s website, the chain got started in 1987 by a couple of “ex-hippies” in Santa Barbara, Calif. The company then expanded into College Station, Texas, where the restaurant became a hit with Texas A&M students, which is odd since I’m almost certain the restaurant doesn’t serve eggs benedict. Benedict, as in Benedict Arnold. Famous traitor. Texas A&M and its Big 12 betrayal. (This is not good: The first column of 2013, and I’m already having to explain jokes.)
What the restaurant does serve is a large mix of burritos, tacos, nachos and other similar dishes. Freebirds promotes that it is uses hormone-free, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken, which the website says goes back to the company’s hippie roots.
Here’s another thing that may go back to the restaurant’s hippie founders: Pot brownies. I’ve asked several hippies if those were popular back in the day, and they said they couldn’t remember. I took that as a sign that they were very popular. But before you grab your tie-dye and start forming a line at Freebirds, you should know that these pot brownies are named such because they are served in a black pot. (The tie-dye would still be fun, though.)
When Freebirds opens in Lawrence, it will be the company’s second Kansas location. Its first Kansas location opened in 2012 along Metcalf Avenue in Mission. It also has restaurants in Westport and Lee’s Summit in the Kansas City area.
Perhaps you noticed that the recently-published list of top construction projects in Lawrence included two $1 million-plus homes.
Well, here’s another sign that the big wheels in the Lawrence real estate market may be starting to turn again:
The developers of the Fall Creek Farms project — one of the more exclusive neighborhoods in the city — are ready to start a new phase of development for the first time in about a decade. Plans call for about 70 new lots to be opened up.
The development is just south and west of Kasold Drive and Peterson Road, and it has its fair share of million-dollar homes. Some of the city’s top executives have called the neighborhood home, and KU men’s basketball coach Bill Self once did as well.
Now the development group, which is led by longtime builder Gene Fritzel, plans to open up four new mini-neighborhoods within the development, and several of them will come in at price points less than what Fall Creek has become known for.
John Esau and Carl Cline of the Lawrence branch of Keller Williams Real Estate are marketing the property. Esau said the development is offering lots to builders in four different price ranges:
• $55,000 to $65,000 lots for homes in the $350,000 to $450,000 range.
• $65,000 to $75,000 lots with homes in the $400,000 to $650,000 range.
• $100,000 to $125,000 lots for homes in the $650,000 to $1 million range
• $165,000 and up lots with homes above the $1 million mark.
If you have been in the Fall Creek Farms neighborhood, you might remember that there is a roundabout near the center of the development. Esau said the new construction will take place west of that roundabout and will stretch all the way to Monterey Way. Streets and utilities already have been installed for the new phase of development. In fact, the streets have been there largely unused for a number of years.
Esau said the timing seems to be right for the new development. He’s convinced that pent-up demand in the Lawrence real estate market is starting to surface.
“We’re hearing from customers that they want to build,” Esau said. “There is some renewed confidence. People have sat through three or four years of uncertainty or decline, and now they are realizing that if they are ever going to do this, now is the time.”
The most recent building permits numbers we reported showed that through November home building has increased by about 30 percent from the dismal totals of the past few years.
Real estate sales numbers also are showing some signs of improvement. The latest numbers I have are through October. They show total home sales are up 26.5 percent from the same period a year ago. In all, local agents have sold 784 homes this year. Sales of newly constructed homes are up 27.3 percent, totaling 70 sales for the year. The only down number is one that buyers probably won’t mind: Selling prices are down significantly. The median sale price on a home is down 5.9 percent to $158,250. Selling prices for newly constructed homes, however, are up 8.6 percent to an average of $265,000.
I should be getting November sales numbers in another week or so.
Lawrence’s Westlake Ace Hardware part of $88 million sale; customers not expected to notice changes at local stores
The nuts and bolts of the operation of Lawrence’s two Westlake Ace Hardware stores have changed, but company officials are promising customers won’t notice any changes in the, well, nuts and bolts and other items the company sells.
Ace — the giant retail, hardware cooperative based in Oak Brook, Ill. — has purchased the 85-store Westlake chain that operates Lawrence’s two stores.
If at this point, you are thinking that Lawrence’s two stores have long been named Westlake Ace Hardware, you are correct. But the stores have been owned by Lenexa-based Westlake Hardware, which does its purchasing of inventory through the Ace cooperative.
But the deal, which closed this week, means Ace now owns the Westlake stores. Since Ace long has been the supplier for the stores, product offerings at the store aren’t scheduled to change.
A spokeswoman for Ace also told me that there aren’t any plans to change store employees or how the stores are operated. No downsizing is anticapted as part of the deal. Shasha Bigda, director of corporate communications for Ace said consumers shouldn’t notice anything different at the stores. That includes the name. Bigda said the Westlake brand will continue to be used at the stores.
“That name is well known in the markets it serves,” Bigda said.
Reportedly, the deal was worth $88 million, and the terms of the purchase call for Westlake’s management team to remain in place and be based in Lenexa. The management team will report to a separate board within the Ace corporate structure.
The deal represents a new strategy for Ace, which like all cooperatives, is owned by the members it serves. In this case, the approximately 4,200 stores the company supplies, each own a piece of the Ace cooperative. But this new deal flips the equation and marks the first time Ace has owned outright a chain of hardware stores.
It will be interesting to see if that strategy continues for Ace, and whether it starts buying out more traditional mom-and-pop hardware stores in future years. Westlake long ago had stopped being what you would think of as a mom-and-pop operation. It was founded as a single store in Huntsville, Mo., in 1905, but by the 1970s it was expanding into other states. It had grown to become the largest dealer in the Ace cooperative.
The company was family-owned until 2006 when the private equity firm Goldner Hawn Johnson and Morrison purchased the company. So, if you want to think of it in simple terms, I think the end result of this deal is that the profits from the Westlake stores now will go to Ace rather than to the private equity firm.
In Lawrence, Westlake operates stores at 23rd and Louisiana streets and at Sixth Street and Kasold Drive.
And you thought your kitchen was busy this holiday season.
I chatted recently with Jeremy Farmer, executive director of Lawrence’s Just Food food bank, and he told me his organization has been busy putting together 916 Christmas baskets for households that were struggling to put a Christmas meal on the table.
The fact that there is an organization that can put together such a charitable effort is heart-warming, but what is disheartening is that the number of people in need of the service has grown significantly.
Farmer said Just Food did 750 baskets last year, so demand is up by about 22 percent. Farmer said the holiday numbers are indicative of the demand the food bank has been seeing all year.
“We definitely don’t see the higher numbers as a success point,” Farmer said. “It is a reminder that as a community, we have failed to solve this problem.”
Look for some significant changes in food bank operations in 2013. We’ll have more on it later, but the United Way program that encourages social services providers to better collaborate is moving into Lawrence’s food pantry system. Farmer said Just Food, which operates a warehouse of food supplies near 11th and Haskell, will begin operating satellite food pantries at several locations, including the Ballard Center and Penn House. In the past, there have been food pantries at those locations, but they have been run independently. Now, it sounds like most of the food pantries in town will come under the management of Just Food.
As I said, we’ll get more details on that in the future.
As far as the Christmas baskets go, the deadline to sign up and qualify for those has already passed. Just Food workers are distributing the baskets through Saturday. The baskets include vegetables, fruit, bread, meat, cranberry sauce, dessert and, of course, gravy.
Ah, gravy. Soon, I will be swimming in it. That’s my way of saying that Town Talk will take a few days off to celebrate the holidays. (And by celebrate, I mean dipping innumerable, edible items in gravy.) Look for the gravy-stained column to return after the New Year.
I sure hope you all have a safe and very happy holiday season.
The New Year is coming, and I’m sure so too will my tried and true resolution of vowing to start playing my old guitar again.
Well this year, maybe it will stick because it looks like me playing my guitar is the only thing needed to make Lawrence a Grade A retirement destination.
There’s a new report out by the folks with American Cities Business Journals that finds Branson, Mo., is the top retirement community in the Midwest. The authors of the study opine that its status as the Live Music Show Capital of America is one of the city’s calling cards as a retirement destination.
So, be on the lookout for Cousin Chad and the Empty Bottle Band, and you all can thank me later.
But the report also suggests Lawrence may need one other item to fulfill its relatively new goal of becoming a destination for retirees: Greasy hamburgers.
I’m talking greasy hamburgers in the miniature style of the Cozy Inn in Salina. That’s right, Salina ranks above Lawrence and every other city in Kansas as a retirement destination. I’m assuming it is because retirees flock there to tick off their doctors and their pesky cholesterol charts.
In fact, quite a few cities in Kansas ranked above Lawrence as a retirement destination. Of the six cities in Kansas ranked, Lawrence was next to last.
But I’m not sure this study should cause Lawrence to abandon its plans to become a retirement destination. (If you remember, the city and the county have created a new board that is tasked with making the community more retiree-friendly. The effort likely will draw funding from both governments in the coming year.)
The study by the good folks at The Business Journals Web site seems to be a bit weighted against college communities. Among the factors the study considers is how many retirees currently are living in a community. It does that by looking at the total percentage of the population that is 65 or older. Lawrence’s percentage is always going to be lower than a non-college community. The study also looks at the median age of a community’s residents, I guess with the thought that retirees will want to be around other retirees. Again, a college community won’t fare well in that category.
But there was one category where Lawrence did fare well: The percentage of retirees who were born out of state. I think this category is meant to measure how attractive a community is to retirees, with the assumption that people who were born elsewhere are making a conscious decision to retiree in the community.
Out of the 153 Midwest cities that were studied, Lawrence had the 9th highest percentage in this category — although Wichita and Kansas City actually ranked 8th and 3rd, respectively.
Maybe the folks at The Business Journals are on to something. Maybe university communities aren’t well-suited to be retirement communities, but several are trying to do so. They’re betting that the cultural and entertainment events that come with a university — plus the found memories of youth created by a university — will make college communities a magnet for the soon-to-retire Baby Boomer generation.
Lawrence is set to find out over the next few years. I’ll keep my picking thumb limbered up just in case we need a boost.
Anyway, here’s the list of Kansas communities and their ranking in the study of 153 Midwestern cities:
• No. 38: Salina
• No. 52: Topeka
• No. 56: Wichita
• No. 57: Hutchinson
• No. 147: Lawrence
• No. 148: Manhattan
The top five overall in the Midwest are:
• No. 1: Branson, Mo.
• No. 2: Brainerd, Minn.
• No. 3 Fergus Falls, Minn.
• No. 4: Sandusky, Ohio
• No. 5: Marinette, Wis.
You can see the full list, here.
Somehow, it just seems appropriate in this season of late-night battles with wrapping paper, the pre-planning for in-law visits, and the arguments with your spouse about thawing the Christmas goose in the bathtub that this topic would emerge: Drive-through liquor stores.
I am now beginning to understand why my wife rarely lets me leave the borders of Douglas County because I guess in some communities there are liquor stores that have drive-through lanes.
Lawrence may add its name to that list. Christian Walter, the owner of Myers Liquor, 902 W. 23rd St., confirmed to me that he has major redevelopment plans on tap for the longtime liquor store.
The plans include a drive-through lane, which he said would make Myers the only liquor store in town with drive-through service. The lane would be on the east side of the building and would exit onto adjacent Alabama Street.
The drive-through, though, is really just a small part of a larger plan. Walter is filing plans with City Hall to add an 1,800-square-foot retail space onto the west end of the liquor store building. That would almost double the amount of retail space at the corner. The existing Myers Liquor building also would get a complete facelift. Myers said he doesn’t have any plans to use the new space to expand the liquor store. Instead, he wants to attract a new retail tenant to the busy corner on 23rd Street, hopefully a tenant that would be complimentary to the liquor store business. (I vote for a Doritos store. Nacho cheese Doritos and Evan Williams is a country wine and cheese party where I come from. Yes, you are correct, my wife only let me host a wine-and-cheese party once.)
As for the drive-through lane, Walter isn’t making any promises it will come to be. His plans still have to win approval from Lawrence City Hall, and so he is probably a couple of months away from starting construction on any project. But Walter thinks the concept would go over well with customers in Lawrence.
“Our store really thrives on convenience,” Walter said. “This would just increase the convenience factor.”
It makes sense to me. But, of course, I thought thawing the goose in the bathtub was convenient.
I guess every tire must go flat at some point. One of Lawrence’s older tire and wheel shops has closed its doors.
Performance Tire & Wheel Group, 1828 Massachusetts St., shut down on Friday, and the manager of the store told me there are no plans for the company to reopen in Lawrence.
The company has two other stores in Topeka that will remain open. Lawrence store manager Steve Montgomery, who has been at the store for 27 years, said the family-owned business is going through an ownership change as one of the sons is buying out his father. A decision to close the Lawrence store was made as part of that change.
The company got its start in Topeka in 1946, and Montgomery estimated the Lawrence store has been in business for about 40 years, all at its Massachusetts Street location.
Montgomery said the three employees at the Lawrence location have been offered jobs with the company in Topeka. Montgomery said business at the Lawrence store had held up fine during the past several years, and the decision to close was more of broader strategic decision for the company.
No word yet on whether a new business is set to go into Performance’s space along Massachusetts Street.
Temporary closure of 15th/Bob Billings Parkway this summer upsets neighbors; city proposes new detour in hopes of alleviating concerns
We’ve been telling you for awhile now that the area near 15th and Iowa streets is going to be a mess for a good part of 2013. Well, it looks like the mess is going to spread into City Hall tonight.
As we have reported in the past, Iowa Street from about Harvard Road to the Irving Hill Road overpass is set to get rebuilt in 2013. The project, which has lingered in the planning stages for almost three years, has mainly focused on rebuilding Iowa Street and adding a center turn lane.
But the $6.5 million project also includes significant improvements to the intersection of Iowa Street and Bob Billings Parkway/15th Street. As we have previously reported, the construction plan for the project includes closing 15th Street/Bob Billings Parkway for several hundred feet on both sides of Iowa Street. In other words, you won’t be able to turn off Iowa Street onto Bob Billings to the west or 15th Street to the east, and vice versa. Iowa Street will have one lane of traffic open in each direction.
The entire project is expected to last from February through November, but the city is estimating that 15th Street/Bob Billings Parkway will be closed from May 20 to Aug. 16.
That part of the project seems to be catching some neighbors by surprise. I talked to Lawrence resident Nelson Krueger who lives in the neighborhood, and it sure sounds like there will be a push made at tonight’s City Commission meeting to get commissioners to leave the intersection fully open.
But city engineers are warning that such a change this late in the game is going to cause multiple delays to the project. Chuck Soules, director of public works for the city, told me the Kansas Department of Transportation — remember that Iowa Street is also U.S. Highway 59 — is scheduled to be advertised for bid on Wednesday, with bid openings on Jan. 17.
If Bob Billings/15th Street had to remain open during construction, KDOT has indicated it will pull the project from the January bid letting schedule. Soules said that means the start of the project likely would be pushed back by three to four months — it is scheduled to begin in February — and total length of the project would be increased by four months because it will take longer to do the construction work while traffic continues in the area. All told, that means more of the project will happen during Kansas University’s school year.
The city also is predicting that motorists on Iowa Street will see significantly longer delays if the intersection is left open. The key here is that Iowa Street will only have one lane in each direction. If the intersection is closed, the city can remove the traffic signal and keep traffic continuously moving through the construction zone. But if the intersection remains open, the traffic signal will have to remain in place, and with just one lane of traffic, vehicles are predicted to back up for long distances in both directions. Soules told me he can envision traffic backing up through the 19th Street intersection and close to 23rd Street.
The city probably did not help itself by officially designating the detour for the project as Sixth Street to Kasold or Clinton Parkway to Kasold. That will take motorists a long distance out of their way to get to Bob Billings Parkway.
As opposition has grown, however, the city has shifted its detour plan. Soules confirmed to me this morning that he has gotten permission from KU to use several West Campus streets as the official detour for the project. The plan is motorists could turn west at the 19th and Iowa intersection and go through the West Campus streets that run by the Lied Center and the Dole Institute of Politics and then re-enter Bob Billings Parkway at Crestline Drive.
Soules said the city always assumed that would be a de facto detour for motorists, but since those streets are maintained by KU, it needed the university’s permission before signs were put up to declare it the official detour.
We’ll see if that shorter detour makes neighbors happier.
Neighbors — led by Krueger and a few businesses along Bob Billings Parkway — have put together a presentation arguing that closing the intersection will hurt a whole host of businesses.
I received a copy of the presentation this morning, and the neighbors contend there are 2,000 residents in single-family homes and apartment complexes — the large Meadowbrook Apartment Complex is just west of the intersection — that will be impacted. The intersection will be closed during the critical time period of late July and early August when new residents are moving into the apartment complexes.
In addition, the shopping center at Bob Billings and Kasold stands to lose significant business, Krueger argues, because that is when many of those businesses establish relationships with those new residents.
Krueger also contends the city didn’t do enough to notify residents west of Iowa Street about the project. Soules said the city did send out notices to residents, but he said the notification did not stretch all the way to Kasold Drive.
City commissioners will get to sort it all out at their meeting tonight, which begins at 6:35 p.m. at City Hall.