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Menard’s project highlights city rule on vacant space; a look at how Lawrence ranks in state retail report

Build it, and it will be empty. That's the motto of Lawrence, at least in one way.

City planners will be reminded of that tonight. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will consider a proposal by Menard's, the large home improvement chain, to build a 190,000-square-foot store just east of 31st and Iowa streets. As we previously reported, the city's planning staff is recommending denial of the proposal.

But you may not be aware of one of the reasons the project has received a negative recommendation: When large retail projects are proposed in the city, planners are required to look at a retail market analysis to determine what the city's retail vacancy rate will be after the project is built. The way the rules are written, the vacancy rate is to be calculated by assuming the new project will be 100 percent vacant.

So when city officials do the calculations for this project, they put aside the fact that Menard's has no plans to build a 190,000-square-foot building and then leave it empty. Instead, the city adds the 190,000 square feet of the new store onto the city's estimated amount of vacant square footage, which stood at 643,000 square feet the last time it was calculated, in 2010.

When the city planners add on the 190,000 square feet, that pushes the city's supposed vacancy rate to 8.4 percent from 7 percent — which is just above the 8 percent total that is supposed to be a red flag when it comes to vacancy rates. According to a planning staff report, if you add in the approximately 65,000 square feet of smaller retail space proposed to be built along the outer edges of the Menard's project, the vacancy rate would jump to 9.6 percent.

But the city's planning rules also suggest planners go a step further. The city staff looked at all the retail zoning that currently is in place in the city, but doesn't yet have any buildings on it. That totals about 932,000 additional square feet. The city then makes the assumption that all of that will be built, and then be completely empty. That produces a frightening vacancy rate of 17.8 percent.

Planners, of course, don't think people are going to build large retail buildings without first having a tenant to occupy them. The city's planners understand the city's building market better than most because they are on the front lines of development proposals. But already I have heard people complaining about the city's Planning Department and why it would make this type of assumption. Well, city planners get the thankless job of being a referee in the city's politically charged development arena.

In other words, the job of a planner is to apply the rules to the project — not to rewrite the rules. Rewriting the rules is the job of city commissioners, and the rule that requires the city to assume large new retail buildings are going to be vacant has been on the city's books for at least the past decade.

Its days may be numbered, though. Scott McCullough, the city's planning director, told me the process has begun to change the rule. But it won't reach the City Commission in time to be considered for the Menard's proposal.

The rule change probably will get some opposition as well. There is certainly a group of local citizens that is very convinced the city's retail scene is overbuilt. They argue that even though a new Menard's building won't be empty, the addition of that much retail space in the city will cause an approximate amount of retail square footage elsewhere in the community to go vacant. That theory is how the rule got put in place to begin with.

In other words, the way the city's rules are written right now, retail is assumed to be a zero-sum game. For every one square foot of new retail space that comes into town, you must assume one square foot elsewhere will become vacant. Maybe that is the case in some economic climates. But maybe it isn't the case in other economic conditions.

What's certain is that retail zoning requests are a judgment call. The first round of judging will begin tonight at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, when the Planning Commission meets. Ultimately, city commissioners will make the final decision on the Menard's request.

• One other piece of information that was included in the city staff's report was a mention of a state report that ranks how Lawrence's retail scene is doing compared to other Kansas cities. It is called a “pull factor” report, and it is basically a look at how Lawrence's per capita sales tax collections compared to the statewide average. It is called a pull factor because it is assumed that cities with averages much higher than the state are “pulling” customers from other communities to shop.

It is a perfect statistic for retail developers because it can be manipulated to fit the situation. When the pull factor is low, it can be argued that more retail development is needed in order to stop the amount of Lawrence residents who go outside of the city to shop. When the number is high, it can be presented as evidence that retail demand is high and the market can support additional retail development.

But the numbers are interesting because they do a good job of showing how Lawrence's per capita spending stacks up against other cities. The most recent report, which is for the state's 2012 fiscal year, shows Lawrence's numbers have rebounded. The city's pull factor was 1.07, which means it is 7 percent higher than the statewide average. As recently as 2000, the city's pull factor was .99. Going back farther, the city hit a high-water mark of 1.13 in 2000. So, we're somewhere in the middle of the range but trending upward.

Here's a look at how other large towns in the state fared. I'll leave the analysis up to you: Lenexa: 1.52 Overland Park: 1.51 Salina: 1.47 Garden City: 1.47 Manhattan: 1.40 Leawood: 1.40 Topeka: 1.37 Hutchinson: 1.27 Liberal: 1.23 Dodge City: 1.22 Olathe: 1.18 Pittsburg: 1.13 Junction City: 1.12 Wichita: 1.11 Fort Scott: 1.09 Coffeyville: 1.08 Emporia: 1.08 Lawrence: 1.07 Parsons: 1.05 Shawnee: .93 Atchison: .89 Kansas City: .86 Newton: .87 Leavenworth; .73 Prairie Village: .64

Reply 45 comments from Ljreader Liberty275 Princessblea Workinghard Tammy Copp-Barta David Holroyd Logicman David Klamet Cheeseburger Streetman and 16 others

Group finalizing lease for East Lawrence space to house incubator for artists, inventors, craftsmen

Finally, a gym where they won’t look at me funny when I wear my biker shorts with my tool belt.

No, it won’t have treadmills and weight benches. It will have something even better: tools and workbenches.

Eric Kirkendall, a local advocate for artists and inventors, has confirmed to me that a group he leads is finalizing a deal to lease an industrial building along East Ninth Street to house a new concept that tentatively is being called the Lawrence Community Workshop.

The concept, Kirkendall said, will be structured a lot like a workout gym. You’ll pay a monthly fee to access the shop’s equipment and training sessions.

The end result, Kirkendall hopes, is a place where artists, inventors, craftsmen and other creative types can strengthen their career potential.

“To me, this is really an economic development project,” Kirkendall said. “There is an incubator in town for biotech firms, but if you are a bright, creative, young person who wants to build something and make something, there is really no place for you to go.”

The Community Workshop group expects to finalize a lease by the end of the month for the vacant building at 512 E. Ninth Street. The approximately 4,000-square-foot building formerly was the workshop for noted artist Stan Herd, who recently moved his space down the street to East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District near the Poehler Lofts building.

The workshop will have all the basic woodworking and metal shop tools, but it also will have some advanced pieces of equipment that get expensive for start-up businesses to purchase. The space is expected to have a 3D printer and scanner, which is a high-tech piece of equipment that spits out (sorry to get so technical) three-dimensional objects based on a digital design you input into the machine. There is much talk about how the devices are going to revolutionize small-scale manufacturing.

The shop also is expected to have a couple of CNC machine tools. Those are devices such as high-tech lathes and routers that automatically cut out shapes and designs based on a pattern that is entered into a computer.

The workshop also is slated to have some more traditional computer capabilities — such as computers with Photoshop and other programs — for artists and designers.

The building will have one other additional component: an art gallery. The building will have space for about 400 linear feet of art gallery space that he believes can accommodate up to 100 artists. The gallery will be designed in a way that it can also function as meeting room and classroom space.

“Training sessions are expected to be a big part of what we do,” Kirkendall said. “We hope to train 1,000 people a year out of there.”

As for the financial aspects of this deal, Kirkendall said the group currently is contemplating a fee of $29 per month for people who want to have access to the workshop, and $20 per month for artists who want to have space in the gallery.

The workshop will function as a non-profit venture. The idea grew out of a previous idea for an arts, science and creative incubator that the group Lawrence Creates had about two years ago. Since then, Lawrence Creates has partnered with the well-established Lawrence Art Guild. The 51-year old non-profit has taken over the effort to find grant funding for the workshop idea. The group’s non-profit status also means people can make tax-deductible donations, including tools, to the project.

But Kirkendall said that an attractive lease rate on the building will make it possible for the workshop project to proceed even before grants are found. He hopes to have activity in the space by mid- to late summer.

The idea of a community workshop is a new concept to Lawrence, and it should be an interesting one to watch. The workshop is locating in an area of town with some momentum. Just down the street is the previously mentioned Warehouse Arts District, which includes some low-cost, small-scale office space for start-ups.

I was just telling someone the other day that the days ahead should be interesting for both Lawrence’s large-scale — think Farmland Industries business park and completion of the SLT — and small-scale business scenes.

But I don’t think he heard me. He was busy staring at my tool belt.

Reply 8 comments from Chootspa Msezdsit Kayakncolorivers Nick Schmiedeler Homechanger

Dance studio for adults expands into space at Orchards Corner in West Lawrence

Back in the day, when the little space in the Orchards Corner Shopping Center at Bob Billings and Kasold housed the Brass Apple restaurant, there was a lot of stretching going on in the space. Mainly, stretching of my elastic waistband.

Well, now there is stretching of a different type. The Lawrence dance academy Point B Dance has moved into the long vacant space at 3300 Bob Billings Parkway.

The new space represents an expansion for the dance studio that started out about five years ago, and most recently was located in the Sunset West shopping area along Sixth Street. The new location about doubles the amount of space for the business.

The dance studio is unique in town because it focuses on teaching dance to adults 16 years and older. Lots of studios in town are in the children’s dance market, but studio owner Cathy Patterson said the adult market is a growing one.

“There are more and more people interested in the art of dance,” said Patterson, a former professional dancer in California who was trained at KU’s dance department. “People danced when they were young, and now they are coming back to it.”

The studio offers recreational classes and also operates an approximately 25-member dance company that is geared toward performance-oriented dance. The business offers multi-week sessions, but also has several classes where people can just pay by the day.

The new space is allowing the business to expand into the market of providing fitness-oriented dance classes. But the studio’s main emphasis continues to be on contemporary dance — a mixture of modern and ballet dances — jazz dance, turning and leaping classes, and a host of hip hop dance classes.

Now, I may have done some hip hop in that space too. But that was after it changed from the Brass Apple to a short-lived Cajun restaurant that was spelled something like Loo-zee-ana’s. Those Cajuns may have been questionable on their spelling, but they sure had a hot sauce that could make you move in some funny ways.

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Chipotle files plans to build restaurant on 23rd Street

If you are like me and you need a burrito break every once in a while as you navigate the traffic on 23rd Street, you’ll soon have a new option.

The folks from Chipotle Mexican Grill have filed plans to tear down an existing retail building on 23rd Street and build a new restaurant.

The company has filed a site plan to redevelop the old multi-tenant retail building at 1420 W 23rd Street. In case you can’t picture that building (you might have salsa on your glasses; it happens to me a lot while driving on 23rd Street), the building is an older wooden structure that sits back off the street a bit, and has housed an insurance agency, tobacco store, wireless phone company and other various tenants recently. It is right next door to . . . wait, wait . . . Taco Bell.

Can you say, “Let’s get ready to rumble!.” (But can you say it really cool like that one guy? And if so, are people in your office looking oddly at you right now?)

According to the site plan on file at City Hall, the development will replace the approximately 6,000-square-foot, multi-tenant building with a 2,200-square-foot, standalone Chipotle restaurant. The restaurant, it appears, also will have a sizable outdoor seating area.

No word yet on a timeline for the project, or any plans for existing tenants in the building. But I’ve got a message into a representative with the development and will let you know if I hear anything interesting.

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City lays off one employee in Planning Department; creates new position of Small Business Facilitator

The folks who oversee the planning of the city’s growth and development are drawing up a new plan about how to run their department.

Scott McCullough, director of the city’s Planning and Development Services Department, has confirmed his office recently laid off one employee as part of a reorganization plan.

The city eliminated the department’s GIS Analyst position — held by Renee Yocum — as part of a reorganization that has created a new position to help small businesses navigate their way through the city’s planning and development process.

The new position, which has been given the title of Small Business Facilitator, hasn’t yet been filled. McCullough said the position won’t be an actual planner who does reviews of proposed development projects, but rather a person who can be brought into the process at any time to provide extra assistance to small businesses that are trying to get a necessary permit or approval from City Hall.

“The idea is that we’ll have a concentrated focus in the small business arena so we can provide those applicants enhanced customer service,” McCullough said.

The reorganization also has resulted in a decision to move the department’s assistant director — longtime planner Sheila Stogsdill — into a new position called a Planning Administrator.

The Planning Administrator position will be responsible for overseeing all planning applications made to the office and ensuring they are processed in a timely manner. The position will oversee applications made to the Planning Commission, the Historic Resources Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals, McCullough said.

He said the city will start advertising to fill Stogsdill’s current position of assistant planning director within the next few days. McCullough said the assistant director position will become more responsible for reviewing the policies and customer service functions of the department.

The city actually has two assistant director positions to fill in the department, with the other being the assistant director for the development services division. Longtime city employee Margene Swarts — who recently retired — occupied that position, which oversees building inspections, code enforcement and other related matters.

McCullough said he hopes to have all the positions filled by mid-summer.

The moves come shortly after city commissioners asked City Manager David Corliss — as part of his annual review — to look for ways to strengthen and streamline the city’s planning and development services process.

It will be worth watching to see whether other initiatives occur in the department this year. City officials for the better part of a decade have been talking about the need to create a “one-stop shop” for people looking to do development projects. Currently, the city’s planning department and building inspections department are in two different offices. The city for several years has been looking for space and funding to consolidate the two functions.

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Lawrence’s retail sales up 2.1 percent for first quarter

In case you had forgotten, today — April 15 — is tax day. But I hear that a high-ranking federal official will be in town on Friday, so perhaps you could save yourself some postage and just ask him to take it back to D.C. with him.

Let me know how that goes.

In the meantime, let’s talk taxes of a different type. The city of Lawrence now has received sales tax revenue through the first quarter of 2013, and the city’s retail sales totals are showing growth over and above what was a robust 2012.

Through the March report, the city has tallied $354.1 million in retail sales, up 2.1 percent from the same period a year ago. In case you are scoring along at home, these totals don’t represent sales actually made from January through March. The state’s reporting system has a lag, so these totals represent sales made in late 2012 up to about mid-February.

If you are looking for a reason to be negative ( and why wouldn’t you, it is tax day), the city’s March numbers are down about 1.2 percent from March 2012 numbers. But worrying about one month’s worth of sales tax numbers would be like me worrying about my wife buying $150 worth of leftover Easter candy. It's just something that happens in life.

If you are really looking for a reason to be negative (geez, how much do you owe the federal government?), you also could point to the fact that the city’s sales tax collections are growing more slowly than they did a year ago. But that may just be you being a grump because the city posted a blistering growth rate of 5.24 percent in 2012, which was the city’s best retail growth since 1998. Over the past five years, the average growth rate of retail sales in Lawrence has checked in at 1.8 percent. So, the first quarter was about average.

Compared to other places in the state, Lawrence’s performance in the first quarter was mixed. Statewide, retail sales grew by 3.7 percent. Here’s a look at some of the larger retail markets in the state:

• Overland Park: up 1.2 percent

• Olathe: up 4.9 percent

• Kansas City: up. 6.3 percent

• Topeka: up 1.3 percent

• Emporia: up 3.5 percent

• Salina: up 1.7 percent

• Hays: up 5.0 percent

• Manhattan: down 4.0 percent

(Look what happens when your football team goes to a bowl game. Everybody leaves town and spends their money somewhere else. I knew KU football knew what it was doing all along.)

A little closer to home, here’s a look at totals for some smaller communities around Lawrence. But take these figures with a grain of salt. The totals are often so small that it takes only a few dollars to produce a sizable change.

• Baldwin City: up 5.5 percent

• De Soto: down 5.9 percent

• Ottawa: up 7.7 percent

• Tonganoxie: up 8.1 percent

• Eudora: up 16 percent. I actually did the math on that one, and the increase represented an extra $1 million in retail spending during the first quarter. Eudora has been running an aggressive “buy local” campaign, with signs everywhere in town. So maybe that it is it, or perhaps my wife simply found a leftover Easter egg candy outlet in Eudora.

And finally, it wouldn’t be a sales tax article unless I got out my inflation calculator. (You should see the size of that thing.) Here’s a look at Lawrence’s retail sales totals since 2008 — just prior to the financial crisis. The numbers in parentheses are the total adjusted for inflation, in order to give you an idea of how much retail sales have grown above and beyond inflation.

• 2013: $354.1 million

• 2012: $346.6 million ($350.4 million)

• 2011: $333.2 million ($343.9 million)

• 2010: $309.1 million ($329.1 million)

• 2009: $327.9 million ($354.8 million)

• 2008: $334.7 million ($360.9 million)

So, we haven’t quite rebounded back to the levels seen prior to the financial crisis, but we’re very close. And we clearly have bounced backed from the lows of 2010.

If you want more analysis than that, you are going to have to do it on your own. I’ve got breakfast to eat — Cadbury eggs and chocolate bunnies, of course.

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I-70 Business Center has new owners; VFW purchases south Massachusetts Street properties; Habitat for Humanity completes land deal

Spring has brought some new activity to the commercial real estate market, according to the lastest report of land transfers from the Douglas County Courthouse. So, let’s get right into some of the more notable deals.

• The I-70 Business Center in North Lawrence — formerly known as the Tanger Outlet Mall — has new ownership. Lawrence Gateway Investors LLC has purchased the property from I-70 Business Center LLC. I-70 Business Center LLC was a group led by several local businessmen, including contractor Bo Harris, retired insurance executive Bob Johnson and North Lawrence commercial property owner Samih Staitieh.

Lawrence Gateway Investors — the new ownership group — is a recently formed company, so documents aren’t yet on file with the state showing the members of that company. But the resident agent for the company is Thomas Boyd, who is a noted real estate agent and developer with the Wichita-based Walter Morris Companies.

The former mall property — which is at the North Lawrence interchange on the Kansas Turnpike — long ago was converted from a retail center to a business center.

The I-70 Business Center group has had good success in finding tenants for the property. For many years the property was largely vacant, but that is no longer the case. The center has three anchor tenants: the corporate headquarters of Protection One security; a call center operated by Home Oxygen 2-U; and the Rezolve Group, a company that provides services for the student loan industry.

“It has been a good property to own,” Johnson told me. “I think it is a better property now than it has ever been. I think the new group bought it because they can see the future in it.”

Johnson confirmed to me that none of the members of the I-70 Business Center LLC was part of the new ownership group, but he said he wasn’t familiar with the principals in the new group. I’ve reached out to Boyd, the Wichita real estate agent, and will report back if I hear anything interesting.

• It looks like the Lawrence VFW Post has shifted gears on its plans for a new facility. The Alford-Clarke Post #852 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars has purchased 1741 and 1801 Massachusetts St. from Bruce Banning. That’s the former location for Bambinos Italian Restaurant and the current location for Beat the Bookstore.

The purchase comes after the VFW had filed plans with City Hall to build a new club near 27th and Haskell in eastern Lawrence. But as we reported a couple of months ago, VFW leaders said they also were looking at other locations. Now we know what other location they were looking at.

The group has filed a site plan to use the former Bambinos building for its clubhouse. It hasn’t filed any plans for the Beat the Bookstore building. I’ve got a call in the VFW post, but haven’t yet heard back. A member of the VFW told me the plan that has been described to members involves using the former Bambinos property as the bar and club for the facility, and the Beat the Bookstore property would continue to be leased to the bookstore or other businesses in the future to generate revenue for the VFW. I’ll let you know if a VFW provides me new information.

• Lawrence’s Habitat for Humanity has made a purchase that gives the nonprofit a multi-year supply of housing lots in eastern Lawrence. Habitat for Humanity purchased nine vacant lots from Steven George near 17th and Lindenwood. Lawrence’s Habitat for Humanity has been building about three to four homes per year, said Lindsey Slater, community outreach coordinator for the organization. Habitat was looking for more property, in part, because it has only two available lots left in the Comfort Neighborhood in North Lawrence.

Slater said George donated a portion of each lot to Habitat in order to help make the purchase financially feasible for the organization. Habitat builds affordable housing for families that meet certain income guidelines and who are willing to invest “sweat equity” by helping build the home and others for Habitat.

“We’re really targeting hardworking families that wouldn’t be able to qualify for a traditional home loan otherwise,” Slater said.

• To see a complete list of the land transfers for the week ending April 8, click here.

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Regal chain buys Lawrence’s Hollywood Theaters; speculation begins on whether upgrade is in the future

If I were at the movie theater pulling contraband Walgreens candy out of my coat pocket and eating $7 popcorn (I haven’t yet perfected the process for sneaking a popcorn popper into the theater), this may be the point in the movie where the heroic-type of music starts to build.

There’s growing speculation — but no confirmation yet — that a knight on a white horse is going to come dashing onto the scene and make some improvements at Lawrence’s Hollywood Theaters on South Iowa Street.

Regal Entertainment Group, the country’s largest theater chain, has purchased the Hollywood Theaters chain. The deal closed on April 1.

The acquisition has launched speculation that Lawrence’s Hollywood Theater location is going to get an upgrade at the very least. The Hollywood Theater at 34th and Iowa streets continues to be the only chain-operated theater in the city. Liberty Hall in downtown is an independent theater that shows a lot of the independent productions. If I wanted to be a snob, I would say it shows films, not movies. (I would explain the difference, but I was trying to figure out how to sneak a popcorn popper into my History of Film class when that subject came up.)

Local officials at the Hollywood Theaters location weren’t saying much about their plans. I’ve got a call into Regal’s corporate office, and I will let you know if I hear anything interesting.

But I can tell you it is a location several members of the development community are keeping an eye on. They have seen indications that a project may be on the horizon.

It would make sense because it certainly appears that the Lawrence theater is facing stiffer competition from several upscale theaters in Kansas City, particularly the multi-screen theater at The Legends in nearby Wyandotte County.

Hollywood built its Lawrence theater in 1997, and recently people have been asking why the company hasn’t made improvements as the area competition has stiffened. Well, the recent acquisition by Regal may have provided some clues. Simply put, Hollywood — based in Portland, Ore. — was a pretty small player in the movie theater business. It had 43 theaters with a total of 513 screens. Regal has 537 theaters with about 6,800 screens.

The acquisition also made it clear that Hollywood was pretty heavily leveraged. Regal paid $191 million in cash for the Hollywood chain, and of that, $167 million went to pay off Hollywood’s debt.

Regal, on the other hand, posted a strong financial year in 2012. Due to debt management and some acquisitions, the company posted earnings of about $145 million, up more than 250 percent from a year earlier. One of Regal’s chief competitors in the theater industry is Kansas City metro-based AMC Theaters. So, maybe Lawrence can benefit from a rivalry. Plus, you have to figure that at least one person with Regal connections knows Lawrence. For years, Philip Anschutz, one of KU’s most successful alumni, has been the largest shareholder of Regal.

It is too early to say what Regal may do in Lawrence. But it sure appears this may be Lawrence’s best chance in awhile to see an upgrade in its largest movie theater. Personally, I hope they at least add more electric outlets near the seating area. Sneaking a popcorn machine in there is one thing. Sneaking an extension cord in is another.

UPDATE: I spoke briefly Thursday afternoon with Regal spokesman Russ Nunley. He said the company doesn't currently have any capital improvement plans to announce for the location. He said company officials had been on site at the Lawrence property, and found it to be a high quality facility that was well located.

"We are impressed with Southwind," Nunley said. "We think Southwind is an exceptional theater."

Nunley said the company has kept the same staff in place as it transitions to Regal ownership. Nunley said the company's current plans are to keep the Hollywood Southwind name in place for the theater.

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Basil Leaf Cafe signs deal to locate in former Joe’s Bakery building by June or July

Maybe our future includes a mole sauce made out of the glaze from the famous donuts once served at Joe’s Bakery.

Well, probably not. But the old Joe’s Bakery building at 616 W. Ninth St. is getting a new restaurant tenant that has a history of trying about anything. After all, it has been serving high-end food out of a gasoline station for the last three and a half years.

That’s right, the Basil Leaf Cafe has signed a deal to locate in the former bakery building near Ninth and Indiana streets that was a late-night college institution for decades. Basil Leaf chef and owner Brad Walters told me he hopes to have the restaurant open by June, although the timeline may get stretched to early July.

If you are not familiar with the Basil Leaf, you must drive some sort of miracle hover craft that allows you to ignore gasoline stations. Basil Leaf is located in the small kitchen space of the convenience store gas station at Sixth Street and Frontier Road in West Lawrence.

The restaurant is looking to become the third establishment to launch a successful eatery from the space. (Alex, I’ll have Gas Station Cuisine for $500: What are Tortas Jalisco and Biemer’s BBQ?)

Figuring out how to categorize Basil Leaf is a bit of a trick. The restaurant’s take out menu certainly has several standard Italian dishes on it, but it also is not unusual to find soups, house-made moles, risottos, dumplings and other things I frequently watch being made on the Food Network while I sit on my couch and partake in the fine cuisine of Doritos and Slim Jims.

In fact, Walters said you could find anything from Cajun to French to Korean to diner food on the menu.

“I try to play with all cuisine. Nothing is off limits,” Walters said. “I guess I would say it is seasonal Kansas cuisine with some world flavors in there.”

Currently, the best way to categorize Basil Leaf is to call it small. The restaurant’s current space has six tables that are “pretty cramped right now.” Even though the Joe’s Bakery building isn’t overly large, it will about double the space of the restaurant, and Walters expects business to triple.

The dining room of the new restaurant will have space for about 50 diners, and Walters said he’ll be working to create a more full-service in-house dining menu. But don’t worry Basil Leaf take-out fans. Walters said the carry out menu will remain.

But Walters is excited to see what the extra space can allow him to create. He said he expects to add more seafood, chicken, pork and steak dishes. Importantly, he said the space will allow him to have a full bar, including wine offerings.

“On our carryout menu, we’ll get something set in stone, but our in-house menu definitely will be seasonal and we’ll probably be doing some monthly wine dinners in there.” Walters said.

Walters said he hopes the restaurant will fall into the category of “super casual upscale.” (Wait a second. I didn’t know we could make up our own categories.)

“It will be fresh and prepared in-house, but as far as upscale pricing, I’m not going to focus on that. It will be good local cuisine and local comfort food.”

Walters didn’t mention anything about donuts, but he did say something about taking the building back to its roots in one way: He’s going to consider a late-night breakfast menu.

A stop at that building after a night on the town would create some nostalgia for some. (Alex, I’ll have Drunken, Late-Night College Memories for $1,000: What is donut glaze on my . . . )

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Baldwin-based bank to open new branch on West Sixth Street; a snapshot of local banking activity

During much of the 1990s and into the 2000s, it was a scene as common as dandelions in spring: Optimism about the local real estate market would increase, and so would the number of banks in the city.

Well, it is certainly not the 1990s or 2000s again but the optimism meter has gained a level or two, and residents should look for another West Lawrence bank in the next few weeks.

Baldwin-based Mid-America Bank has finalized a deal to purchase the former location of the Lawrence branch of Bank of the West, 4114 W. Sixth Street. Allison Vance Moore, a broker with the Lawrence Colliers International office, negotiated the deal for the location, which is just a block west of the Hy-Vee on Sixth Street.

Mid-America has had a small mortgage-processing office in Lawrence for several years. But when this full-service bank location became available after Bank of the West left the market, Mid-America President Dave Hill decided to put a Lawrence expansion plan in place.

A larger loan production office will be operating in the space by the end of the month, and Hill said he plans to have a full-service bank — including a drive-thru, deposits and loans — operating in the building by Dec. 1. It will be the third full-service banking location for Mid-America. The company has its main branch in Baldwin City, and it opened a Wellsville branch in December.

“The last three years really have been record years for us,” Hill said.

He said construction loan activity has declined significantly during the period, but it has been more than made up by refinancing activity. Now, he said loans for custom homes are starting to pick back up.

The bank — which grew from a start-up in the late 1990s to an institution with $75 million in assets today — manages about $130 million in real estate loans, with most of them primarily in a 30-mile radius of Lawrence. When the full-service branch opens, Hill said the bank will have seven employees in Lawrence, up from two currently.

• Maybe you are like me (an expert dandelion grower), and are curious to see a snapshot of the local banking market. Even if you are not, I’m going to provide one because I took the time to look up these numbers.

Deposits aren’t necessarily the best way to gauge the health of a banking market, but they aren’t bad either. There obviously have been some struggles for individual banks in the past few years, but the amount of deposits in Douglas County has continued to grow during the recent economic downturn. Still, as the numbers below will indicate, deposit growth has a long way to go to get back to the numbers we were seeing in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The numbers below are from the FDIC’s annual June market-share report. The numbers in parentheses are the amount of deposits adjusted for inflation. In other words, I’ve put all the deposits into 2012 dollars.

— June 2012: $1.92 billion in deposits in Douglas County among 24 institutions;

— June 2007: $1.55 billion ($1.72 billion adjusted for inflation) among 25 institutions;

— June 2002: $1.27 billion ($1.62 billion adjusted for inflation) among 23 institutions;

— June 1997: $920.3 million ($1.32 billion adjusted for inflation) among 18 institutions.

Click here, and you can see the amount of deposits broken down by institution. There have been several changes in the rankings over the years, but one thing has remained constant for more than a decade: Three banks hold more than 50 percent of all the deposits in Douglas County: U.S. Bank, Capitol Federal Savings Bank and Douglas County Bank.

Some things, it seems, never change — which leads me to predict that I’ll soon delight my neighbors with a wonderful carpet of beautiful yellow flowers. At least I assume that expression on their faces is delight.

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