I don’t know about you, but I’ve been experiencing building permit withdrawal symptoms. Since about June, I’ve been unable to report any new building permit data for you because the city was having some issues with its new permit software and its ability to print reports.
(I’m assuming that is why I’ve had occasional sleepwalking bouts where I end up in my shop with a hammer and a mangled 2X4, but perhaps something else is going on there.)
Regardless, the city has gotten its report issue fixed, and we have new data to share. And for once, there is some good news in it for Lawrence homebuilders.
Through November, homebuilding activity is up about 27 percent compared to the same period a year ago. In fact, the number of single-family and duplex homes are at their second highest total since 2008.
The city has issued permits for 124 single-family or duplex projects, up from 97 in 2011. The 2012 numbers still trail the 157 permits issued during the same time period in 2010, but that was back when builders thought the first-time homebuyers credit had turned the market around. Interestingly, the 2012 numbers are ahead of the 2008 numbers, which is back before the national economy turned sour.
If November is any indication, builders are finishing the year with some momentum. The city issued 15 permits for single-family and duplex construction, which is more than double the average of 5.25 permits for the previous four years. (I feel for that guy who got the 0.25 of a house.)
When you look at the total construction picture in Lawrence — residential plus commercial — the numbers aren’t quite as good. Through November, the city has issued permits totaling $92.68 million, which is down about 14 percent from the same period a year ago. The $92 million mark of this year is still the fourth lowest total of the last five years, coming in ahead of only the dismal 2009 season.
But again, builders had some momentum in November. The city issued permits for $10.01 million worth of projects during the month, including three commercial projects valued at $1 million or more. They were: $1.645 million for the new Briggs Dodge building at 2300 W. 29th Terrace; $1.304 million for a new metal salvage building for Advantage Metal Recycling at 1545 N. Third St.; and $1.304 million for a classroom addition at the St. John School at 1208 Kentucky St.
So far in 2012, the city has issued 16 permits valued at $1 million or more. The other projects are:
• $8.325 million for Westfield Place Apartments, 204 Eisenhower Drive.
• $4 million for the Lawrence Community Theatre, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive.
• $3.986 million for the Varsity House Apartments, 1043 Indiana St.
• $1.9 million for an addition to the Del Monte pet food plant, 727 N. Iowa St.
• $1.5 million for the Lawrence Memorial Hospital North Wing remodel.
• $1.4 million for Raintree Montessori School addition, 4601 Clinton Parkway.
• $1.4 million for the Hy-Vee C-Store, 3900 W. 24th Place.
• $1.3 million for a retail shell building that will house a Papa Murphy’s, a credit union and other tenants at 650 Congressional Drive.
• $1.235 million for a remodel of the Kia dealership, 1225 E. 23rd St.
• $1.2 million for a new Briggs Nissan dealership 2300 W. 29th Terrace.
• $1.1 million for a single-family dwelling at 1714 Lake Alvamar Drive.
• $1 million for a single-family dwelling at 133 Running Ridge Road.
• $1 million for a retail shell building at 4701 Bauer Farm Drive.
Those aren’t bad numbers considering that in future months there will be another $18 million in construction for the Lawrence Public Library project; $10 million-plus for a pair of multistory buildings at Ninth and New Hampshire streets; and perhaps $25 million for a new recreation center in northwest Lawrence.
It sure appears that one of Lawrence’s larger and older real estate agencies is about to be sold.
Multiple sources are indicating that a deal is expected before the end of the year that will sell Stephens Real Estate to two employees of the Lawrence-based agency.
Doug Stephens, president of Stephens, wasn’t yet ready to comment about the speculation.
But talk around business circles is that Stephens employees Pat McCandless and Chris Earl will be principals in the new deal. McCandless declined to comment when reached. McCandless is the company’s director of personnel and Earl is Stephens’ sales manager.
Sources indicate the deal is progressing but hasn’t yet been finalized.
If the deal is completed, it will be the first time since the company’s founding in 1978 that it hasn’t been controlled by the Stephens family.
Longtime real estate broker Bob Stephens founded the agency after it split off from the Mitchell-Stephens Agency, which had its roots dating to 1970. Doug Stephens, Bob’s son, became president of the company in 1997, according to the company’s Web site.
The agency went on to become not only a large seller of homes, but the Stephens family became active in opening new areas of Lawrence and Douglas County for residential development.
No word yet on whether the pending deal will include a name change for the company, or whether the company has any plans to affiliate with a national real estate franchise. The company through its history has been one of the few agencies in the city that has not partnered at some point with a larger national real estate firm, such as a Century 21 or Coldwell Banker.
We’ll let you know if the deal becomes official.
New poles may be installed in Lawrence neighborhoods as part of Black Hills wireless meter-reading project
If you still get riled up about a new cell phone tower being erected in the county, you’re so stuck in the 1990s.
These days, the argument is just as likely to be about communication equipment that is erected right next to your house.
Perhaps some of you remember that a few residents of Old West Lawrence expressed concern about AT&T installing large boxes of communication equipment on city rights-of-way near people’s homes. The boxes were for AT&T’s U-Verse service, and the city was caught a bit off-guard by the trend. But city officials have since created a new agreement that covers placement of that equipment.
Well, the trend continues, and this time it is with the city’s largest natural gas company: Black Hills Energy. Black Hills Energy plans to begin an Advanced Metering Infrastructure project in the city. If you are a meter reader, that should make you cringe because meter readers, it appears, likely will have time to hang out with telegraph operators and pager salesmen.
What it means to everybody else is poles. There likely will be more poles springing up in the city. The poles will house an antenna like device, a communications box and a solar panel. Based on what I previously have heard from Black Hills, most natural gas meters in Lawrence send out a signal that contains your usage information.
Currently, a van full of equipment drives up and down the streets of Lawrence and captures the signal and the data. But with the new system, strategically placed antennas will capture the data and send it to a central billing location. That will eliminate the driving up and down the streets of Lawrence to read the meters.
Black Hills is proposing 29 antenna sites. Ten of the sites are on existing traffic signals. The remaining 19, however, will require the installation of a new pole. Click here to read a report that includes a full list of the sites.
As proposed most of the poles will be placed on city right-of-way, — a couple will be on property owned by Black Hills — meaning most of the poles will show up in places where you would expect to see a street light, for example.
Public Works Director Chuck Soules told me most of the poles will be about 30 feet tall. , The city and Black Hills have created some photo illustrations that indicate the poles will be as tall, or perhaps a bit taller, than a standard street light pole. Soules said Black Hills wants to start work on the project immediately.
City commissioners will get briefed on the project at their Tuesday evening meeting. It will be interesting to watch how the project unfolds. The technology has caught the interest of the city. The city reads thousands of water meters each month, and most of them are still read by people who walk up to the meter and record the data.
According to a city memo, the city has “discussed the opportunity to possibly share some of this technology/infrastructure with Black Hills.” There doesn’t appear to be an immediate change on the horizon, but according to the memo, Black Hill has indicated a willingness to cooperate when the city is ready to pursue the technology.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday.
It is fair to say that there already has been quite a bit of pot-stirring lately when it comes to providers of high-speed Internet service in Lawrence.
First, The World Company (the parent company of this Web site) sells Sunflower Broadband — the longtime, locally owned dominant provider of Internet service in the city — to Knology. Then, Knology sells itself to Colorado-based Wide Open West, which apparently has marketing people who drink a lot of caffeine because it officially goes by the name WOW!. Just to keep you on your toes, though, Knology hasn’t yet changed its name to WOW! here in Lawrence.
Meanwhile, the Internet provider Lawrence Freenet changed its name to Wicked Broadband and has begun expanding its service. (Its marketing people must drink whatever you drink while watching a marathon of the Wizard of Oz, because its tagline is “faster than a flock of flying monkeys.”)
And speaking of flying monkeys, there is Google. (That’s how they get all those search engine results, you know.) The world’s new corporate giant picked Kansas City, Kan., and then Kansas City, Mo., to launch its Google Fiber project, which promises to bring Internet service that is so fast that my wife would be able to deplete the entire inventories of online shopping sites with the single push of a button. The proximity of that project generated chatter in Lawrence about what it needs to do to keep up with the Jones of the broadband world.
Well, it is still a bit early to say that the pot is about to be stirred again — but there is an entity out there that is fiddling with the spoon. You may be surprised who it is: the city of Lawrence.
When it comes to valuable infrastructure, the city these days owns far more than roads, waterlines, parks and such. It also has large amounts of fiber optic cable or underground conduits to accept fiber optic cable.
At their Tuesday evening meeting, city commissioners will be asked to begin advertising for a consultant that can help the city determine how to best leverage its valuable fiber optic holdings.
What that will lead to is still uncertain. But a city staff memo points to a recent initiative in Seattle as an example of what other cities are trying to do with their fiber optic networks. One of the goals in Seattle is to increase competition among service providers.
It will be interesting to see if the city uses its fiber optic network in a way designed to lower the price of broadband services in the city. I don’t even know how the price of broadband services in Lawrence stack up to those in other communities. But I bet you tech companies thinking about moving to this area do.
The city already has been playing that game a bit. The folks at Wicked Broadband — mostly when it was Lawrence Freenet — have used city infrastructure to expand their service in town. The city and Wicked have an agreement that says Wicked will make efforts to provide low-cost Internet service to people who can’t afford it. According to the company’s Web site, 10 percent of a customer’s monthly service fee “helps bring Internet access to low-income households.”
The city has a fiber optic network or conduit that stretches all the way to Tee Pee Junction in North Lawrence to 23rd and Iowa in south Lawrence to the East Hills Business Park in eastern Lawrence and to west of the Sixth Street and South Lawrence Trafficway in west Lawrence.
But the city also wants a consultant to look at all the traffic signals, light poles, water towers and other city-owned structures that could accommodate equipment for wireless Internet service. Does the city have the infrastructure in place to create a wireless Internet cloud over the city? Given that until recently I kept going to The Raven to try to buy this Facebook everybody was talking about, I’m not the guy to ask. But a city-hired consultant is. We’ll get a read on Tuesday about how serious city commissioners are about being tech players in the community.
I bet you this has something to do with Duchess Kate’s morning sickness.
Fans of British cuisine will be sad to hear that Queen Lizzy’s Fish & Chips, 125 E. 10th Street, is closing its doors on Dec. 21.
Here’s my theory: Duchess Kate was secretly a regular customer of Lawrence’s only British-themed restaurant.
But now with this pregnancy, she’s having a hard time keeping the bangers and mash down. And thus we can all blame Prince William for Lawrence losing one of its more unique restaurants.
Well, it's a theory anyway, but Queen Lizzy’s owner Matt Poulton told me the restaurant’s location was at the heart of the matter. Simply put, the size, and off-Mass. Street location combined with the rent just wasn’t working.
“This unit is on two levels and it only can fit 31 people comfortably,” Poulton said. “We need to find the right size. We need to find something bigger.”
Indeed, Poulton has not given up on the idea of British cuisine in Lawrence.
“There is definitely a demand for it,” Poulton said. “That’s why we’ll be back.”
Queen Lizzy's won the Best New Restaurant category in Lawrence.com's 2010 Best of Lawrence contest, and it also won in the best Fish ‘n Chips category in Pitch Weekly’s restaurant contest.
So, the restaurant has a following. Poulton, however, said he doesn’t want to make any false promises about when he’ll be able to reopen in another location.
In the meantime, the company will sell a few of its food products at Brits, 929 Massachusetts Street. Those products will include traditional British sausages wrapped in puff pastries, a variety of meat pies and such, and something called Scotch eggs, which is a hard boiled egg wrapped in ground pork and breadcrumbs and then baked.
The company also will continue to serve food at some British festivals around the region and will offer private catering. (Take a look at their menu and tell me you can’t have a wild party with items such as Bacon Butty and Mushy Peas.)
I’ll keep an ear out for any news of a new location for Queen Lizzy’s, and pass it along as soon as I hear. But right now, I need to excuse myself. I’ve been having a bit of morning sickness myself. I was confused last night about what Scotch eggs were.
Work at former Kaw Motors site is for Advantage Metals, but city halts construction until permit issue is resolved
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me in the last week or so what is going on at the former Kaw Valley Motors site in North Lawrence, I would have eight or nine dollars. (And for a man who has a wife that has put JEWELRY in capital letters on her Christmas list, those dollars would be helpful. I figure it would get me about halfway there.)
If you haven’t driven by the Tee Pee Junction lately in North Lawrence, most of the old buildings that were part of the defunct Kaw Valley salvage yard have been removed, and major dirt work has begun on the site.
The project is the same one we reported on in March: Kansas City-based Advantage Metals is working to build a state-of-the-art metal salvage yard at the site.
But right now, the best way to describe the project is halted. The city of Lawrence issued a stop-work order for the project late last week.
Planning Director Scott McCullough told me the issue involves the project not having the necessary state floodplain development permit.
The city issued a floodplain development permit — the site is right next to the Kansas River but is protected by a levee — on the belief that the project didn’t need a state permit. But upon further review, McCullough said the project does need a state floodplain development permit from the Division of Water Resources. McCullough said the decision was made to issue a stop work order on the excavation that was occurring on the site until that permit is obtained.
“I don’t see any of this as a prohibition on what they want to do at the site,” McCullough said. “They just have to go through this process.”
The permit could be issued in early 2013. The state currently is processing the permit application, and a public comment period on the application runs through the end of this month, McCullough said.
But it appears likely that the site ultimately will be a salvage yard again. The approved plans for the project, however, ensure the area will look quite a bit different than the old Kaw Valley Motors site.
Plans call for a new 14,000 square foot building to be constructed along North Third Street. I believe it is fair to say that Advantage Metals will have more indoor storage of materials than Kaw Valley did. Outdoor storage areas will be fenced and screened.
Based on the company’s Web site, it appears the business will accept about any type of metal — including cars, appliances, lead acid batteries, electric motors and such.
Several folks in the area may already be familiar with Advantage’s operations. The company is based in Kansas City, but also has locations in Topeka, Fort Scott, Columbus, Emporia, and several cities in Missouri. (I hear Mizzou officials several times this season tried to trade in their football team at the locations. Yes, it is tough to make living off of Mizzou jokes when the ‘Hawks are 1-11. But, hey, I’ve got jewelry to pay for.)
With this latest delay, I don’t have word on when Advantage may open. Obviously, the project is setting up a battle between Advantage and North Lawrence-based Lonnie’s Recycling, which has been a fixture across the river for years. In addition, the 12th and Haskell Recycling Center also has plans on the book for a new location in East Lawrence, just northeast of 11th and Haskell. I need to get an update on the latest with that project.
In the meantime, it is off to jewelry shopping. Hey wait a minute. Advantage Metals. Metals. I wonder if they have a deal on jewelry.
Here may be another example of how Lawrence once again breaks from the herd. Right here in the middle of Beef Country, Lawrence may become known as the Capital of Veggie Burgers.
It is still a little early to bestow that title, but one of Lawrence’s emerging, potentially nationwide success stories is a veggie burger company.
As we previously have reported, Hilary Brown, the owner of Lawrence’s former Local Burger restaurant, has started a veggie burger production company that sells products under the brand name Hilary’s Eat Well.
Now, the company is undergoing its largest expansion yet. Brown confirmed to me that her company has signed a deal with an investor to occupy an 8,000-square-foot, vacant industrial building near 23rd and Haskell.
The building at 2205 Haskell Ave. used to house a machine shop, but has been vacant for a few years. The purchase will allow Brown to move out of rented production space at 19th and Haskell, and significantly expand production of the company’s products. It also will allow the company to move its administrative offices out of the upstairs space that was above the former Local Burger restaurant near Seventh and Vermont streets.
Brown started making a few veggie burgers out of her Local Burger restaurant in spring 2010, and demand was so strong that she had moved into production space at 19th and Haskell by February 2011. By summer 2012, the company struck a deal to have its veggie burger products sold in Whole Foods stores across the country.
Brown said the company is in discussions with other national retailers and food service companies to carry the products. The company expects its production capacity to increase “by a lot,” and the company has ordered new equipment for the location.
“I think I just wrote the largest check of my life,” Brown said of the recent equipment order. “But we think it will pay for itself very quickly.”
The company plans to launch three new products in 2013, including something called a Hemp and Greens Burger, Veggie Bites and a special remoulade sauce that was popular at Local Burger.
Currently, Hilary’s Eat Well has about 20 employees, but Brown said the company likely will add four more as part of the expansion.
She hopes to be in the building by March or April. Kelvin Heck of Lawrence’s Colliers International brokered the deal for the seller, while Lawrence resident Steve Ruttinger of Spectrum Real Estate Services represented the buyer.
Rumblings of Menards coming to Lawrence may be impacted by retailer’s decision to pull back on Kansas City area expansion, which it blames on Obama
There have been rumblings for awhile that Menards — the home improvement chain — may be giving Lawrence a serious look. Well, here’s a new rumbling that may displease Lawrence folks on a couple of levels.
The Independence, Mo., Examiner is reporting that Menards has put its plans to build a new store in Independence on hold. Furthermore, it said its reason for delaying a store for reasons related to President Obama.
“I’m very sorry, but we are a family-owned business and with the Obama administration scaring the dickens out of all small businesses in the USA at present, we have decided not to risk expansion until things are more settled,” Menards spokesman Jeff Abott told the newspaper in an e-mail on Friday.
Yeah, you heard that right. A spokesman used the word “dickens.” (I wonder if Menards sells dickens, and if they are cheaper there than at Home Depot.)
Regardless, the bigger news is that if Menards is delaying projects they already have announced, then the chances of an announcement happening in Lawrence in the near future seem less likely. Menards has offered no timetable to restart the project.
As a side note, the company’s politicizing of the issue probably won’t go over well with a majority of their potential Lawrence customers, since the city is one of the few in Kansas to come out big to support the president’s re-election.
On Tuesday, Kansas City television station KCTV 5 contacted the Wisconsin-based retailer for more comment, and the spokesman declined to repeat his assertion that the Obama administration played into the decision.
Anyway, I’ll leave those politics to you. I’m busy enough trying to figure out where all these scared dickens have gone.
Questions emerge about how much Fritzel and his foundation will control operations of KU facilities at proposed Rock Chalk Park
It is becoming a bit clearer that Lawrence may be getting more than just a publicly owned sports complex with the proposed Rock Chalk Park.
Saying it is getting a bit clearer, however, is kind of like saying the Kansas River is clearer than a tar pit. But in recent days the public has started to hear rumblings that Thomas Fritzel’s Bliss Foundation is set to play a major role in the operation of the KU facilities at Rock Chalk Park.
Tuesday night, Mayor Bob Schumm confirmed to me that it is his “understanding” that the Bliss Foundation will have a master lease over all the KU facilities at the proposed Rock Chalk Park, which would be just north of the northeast intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Schumm said he hadn’t yet seen any documents related to Bliss Foundation’s operational role in the facility, but his understanding is that the Kansas University Endowment Association will own the land, but Fritzel’s foundation will be offered a land lease on the property. Kansas University Athletics then will have an agreement with the foundation spelling out KU Athletics’ use of the facilities, which will include a 10,000-seat track and field stadium, a soccer field, softball stadium and nearly 40,000 square feet of indoor training space and an indoor softball field.
It also will include acres and acres of ground. The first phase of the Rock Chalk Park is listed at 90 acres, although 20 of those acres are scheduled to be owned by the city and won’t be subject to any lease agreement with Fritzel’s foundation.
The whole situation has at least one neighbor to the property — landowner Jack Graham — questioning how the public should expect this sports complex to be used. Specifically, will the agreements between Fritzel’s foundation and KU give Fritzel the right to host multiple events that have nothing to do with KU athletics or even athletics in general?
As we reported Tuesday, city planning staff members are highlighting that the project’s special use permit will allow for non-athletic events to be held at the complex. The report indicates the city hasn’t yet seen specific plans for what that might entail. But the report lists some examples, including music concerts, festivals, BBQ cookoffs, car shows, and BMX or Motocross events. Or think about all those runs and street dances that currently happen downtown.
The staff report even mentioned tractor pulls, but that probably isn’t the most likely of happenings. Music concerts, however, may be a different deal. We noted with interest when plans showed a 4,000-seat amphitheater for the complex. The amphitheater is no longer shown in phase one of the development, but a site on the property is still set aside for an amphitheater.
When I asked Schumm Tuesday night whether he understand the role that the Bliss Foundation would have in operating the KU facilities and potentially booking them for events, Schumm said: “I’m not certain at this time that I do.”
But city commissioners went ahead and gave round one approval for the zoning of the property on Tuesday. The city, however, still must approve the zoning ordinance on second reading, and there was some talk about delaying that vote until a bit more information emerges.
I’ll attempt to get more information today from KU Endowment and from Fritzel.
But in the meantime, think about this: The Rock Chalk Park already is designed to be a basketball magnet, with the city’s mega recreation center scheduled to have eight full court gyms. If music concerts become part of the plan, watch out. It is difficult to think of two things that Lawrence loves more than basketball and music. (There are a couple of other things I can think of, but I’m not sure they’re legal.)
This complex has been sold so far with economic development in mind, and using this as a concert venue would boost that potential. But loud outdoor music concerts come with their own set of challenges.
It will be interesting to watch, but if basketball and music become the new strategy, I’ve already got the marketing tag line: Rock Chalk and Rock ’n’ Roll.
Well, just when you think you have put the Kansas University football season behind you, we drag it back up again. Last week, Mayor Bob Schumm was supposed to pay off on a bet he made with the mayor of Morgantown, West Virginia related to the KU-West Virginia football game.
As we reported last week, Schumm was supposed to wear some West Virginia Mountaineer gear to the meeting last Tuesday to hold up his end of the bet. But he forgot.
My understanding is that he’ll take care of that tonight. I think the original bet just called for him to wear a West Virginia Mountaineer sweat shirt. But since he forgot, it seems appropriate that he would be required to wear a ’coon skin mountain man cap for the entire meeting. I wouldn’t count on it. I don’t know why, but for some reason, a furball on a man’s head seems like an appropriate way to send off the KU football season.