There is a checkout of note at the Lawrence Public Library.
Susan Brown, the marketing director of the Lawrence Public Library, soon will be leaving to become the library director for the city of Chapel Hill, N.C.
According to the Web site of the city of Chapel Hill (which, by the way, promotes itself as “the southern part of heaven”), Brown will start her new job on May 20.
It will be a bit of a homecoming for Brown, who received her master’s degree in library science from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and previously was a reference librarian in Raleigh, N.C. No word yet on whether she has to buy a harp to move to Chapel Hill or not. (Or since it is southern, perhaps a fiddle will do.)
Also no word yet on what the Lawrence Public Library’s plans are for filling the library’s marketing position.
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I am so glad I didn’t follow through on my original plans for lunch yesterday: A bourbon, a bag of Doritos and a gallon of ice cream.
Forget about ruining my health. I could have ruined Douglas County’s reputation.
A new study out today shows Douglas County is indeed one of the healthiest places in Kansas. The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps study, by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, ranks Douglas County the ninth healthiest county by one measure and the seventh healthiest by another.
Douglas County ranks ninth in the category of health outcomes, which basically measures mortality rates — how long we live — and morbidity — which measures how healthy we feel while we’re alive.
But let’s face it, part of how long we live and how healthy we feel is just dumb luck. So the report puts together a separate ranking that measures several types of behaviors or conditions that theoretically should impact our health. I’m talking about things like alcohol and tobacco use, violent crime rates, obesity rates, air-quality measurements and a host of other factors.
In that ranking, we do even better. The county checks in at No. 7 in the state. (There are many things they measure, but I didn’t see one measuring lunches of alcohol, sweets and snack foods, so I may have been OK.) How do we stack up in some of the categories? Here’s a look at our rankings. (The study ranked 102 of the state’s 105 counties, and the lower the number the better the ranking.)
• Tobacco use: 35th
• Diet and exercise: Third
• Alcohol use (measured by the rate of “excessive drinking” as measured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and motor vehicle crash death rates): 52nd
• Sexual activity (measured by teen birth rates and chlamydia incidence rates): 54th
• Access to health care: 30th
• Quality of health care: Fifth
• Education: Third
• Employment rates: 65th
• Income (as measured by the percentage of children living in poverty): 11th
• Family and social support (measured, in part, by the percent of children living in single-parent households): 50th
• Community safety (measured by violent crime rates): 89th
• Environmental quality (measured by air and water quality standards): Sixth
• Built environment (measured, in part, by the amount of fast-food restaurants, the public’s access to recreation facilities): 46th
As for who the heck is healthier than Douglas County, the answer is a mix of counties. The top five counties in terms of health outcomes (mortality and morbidity) are:
• First: Johnson County (home to, well, I’ll let you fill in the blank).
• Second: Riley County (home to Manhattan and Kansas State University).
• Three: Stevens County (home to Hugoton and views of the edge of the world).
• Fourth: Pottawatomie County (a neighboring county to Riley).
• Fifth: Ellis County (Home to Fort Hays State University).
There’s a ton of other data on a special Web site the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation created for this study. You can find everything from the number of Douglas County motor vehicle deaths (61) to the local number of chlamydia cases (426).
But I’ll leave you with just one more ranking. The report has a ranking of “health behaviors.” It is a ranking that looks at several of the sub-categories such as alcohol use, sexual activity, diet and exercise and tobacco use. Douglas County ranks eighth. But what caught my eye was my home county of Osage County, which borders Douglas County to the southwest. It ranked 101st, or second to last in the state. The only place that ranked worse was Wyandotte County, which almost borders Douglas County to the east.
So, in essence, we’re like part of this sandwich. Based on our two neighbors, it is like a triple Whopper with extra cheese and bacon. And then along comes Douglas County who puts a helping of alfalfa sprouts on it. No wonder so many people don’t like us.
Oh well, fellow Douglas Country residents, enjoy your health ranking — while you can.
I’m starting to plan lunch. And I feel my Osage County roots coming out today.
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Business-oriented political action committee gets big donations, endorses Chestnut, Farmer, Riordan in City Commission race
The finish line is in sight, and it seems as if the race for the Lawrence City Commission is about to kick into another gear.
Last weekend, Lawrence residents saw a pretty clear sign that the competition is about to heat up: Campaign spending by a new pro-business political action committee.
A new PAC, called Lawrence United, sent out a postcard mailing to residents during the weekend endorsing three of the six candidates for Lawrence City Commission — Rob Chestnut, Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan.
The one campaign finance report the group has filed so far shows the PAC has some fundraising chops, thanks in large part to a sizable donation from one of the city’s larger construction companies.
Penny’s Concrete — the firm owned by longtime Lawrence businessman Bill Penny — gave $5,000 to the PAC during the Jan. 1 through Feb. 14 reporting period.
The Lawrence firm of Paul Werner Architects also gave $1,000 to the organization. Werner has been in the news recently as the lead architect for the Rock Chalk Park sports village proposed for northwest Lawrence. Werner has served as the architect for many of the projects proposed and built by Thomas Fritzel, who has been the driving force behind the public-private partnership to build the Rock Chalk Park and city-owned recreation center.
The postcard mailer sent out this weekend didn’t go into any specifics on any issue, including the recreation center. Its main message was it supports “candidates who support creating a sustainable, vibrant and growing economy.”
Penny’s Concrete is the type of business that benefits from a variety of development — everything from new streets to new building construction. For whatever it is worth, and as we previously have reported, Penny has been a business partner with Fritzel on past deals, including a struggling housing development in Junction City that created some headlines recently.
In total, the PAC raised $7,700 in the reporting period. It received donations from five others: $500 from Lawrence-based O’Malley Beverage; $500 from OSS Solutions Inc., a Lawrence-based wireless consulting company; $150 from Doug Gaumer, president of the Lawrence operations of Intrust Bank and also the current chair of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce; $150 from Kathy Gaumer, a Lawrence physician and wife of Doug; $200 from HKG Consulting, a medical consulting business that, based on the address of the business, appears to be run by the Gaumers.
According to paperwork at the Kansas Secretary of State’s office, United Lawrence set up a limited liability company to run the new organization. Casey Meek, a Lawrence attorney, is listed as resident agent of the company and also is listed as treasurer of the political action committee. The company’s articles of incorporation indicated the organization has a board of directors, but a document isn’t yet on file with the secretary of state’s office listing those directors. But I’ll give Meek a call today to see if he can disclose those members.
Political action committees aren’t unheard of in Lawrence City Commission politics. In the 1990s, a group called Progressive Lawrence actively campaigned for candidates that it thought would give neighborhoods more of a voice in the City Hall process. And candidates frequently receive donations from political organizations related to various building trades unions, police and firefighter organizations and other such groups.
Nonetheless, the mailing had candidates in the race talking. Political observers are now waiting to see if Chestnut, Farmer and Riordan start running more coordinated campaigns.
I’m not sure they will. The trio produces some interesting political mathematics to contemplate. Farmer finished second in the primary, Riordan finished third and Chestnut finished fourth. In this election, only the top three win a seat. So for all three of the Lawrence United candidates to win election, they’ll have to unseat the primary's top finisher, multi-term incumbent Mike Amyx.
History shows that knocking the winner of the primary out of the top three spots in the general election is difficult to do. In the approximately 20 years I’ve covered City Commission elections, I remember it happening only once. If that trend holds true, the fight for the final spot may very well come down to a battle between two of the Lawrence United candidate, in which case coordinated campaigning doesn’t work too well.
And I suspect the three candidates who were not endorsed by the Lawrence United group — Amyx, Scott Criqui and Leslie Soden — will attempt to turn that into a political positive as well. Endorsements by business-oriented groups don’t always play well in some Lawrence voting circles.
But as they say on Wall Street, past results don’t guarantee future returns. And with such a light turnout for this year’s primary election, who know what may happen in the April 2 general election.
But it looks like it will be a spirited contest to the end. Officials at the Douglas County Clerk’s office told me Lawrence United is the only political action committee that has filed paperwork with the office, but such groups can form at any time.
The $7,700 raised by Lawrence United was just from the period during the primary election. Campaign finance reports for the period leading up to the April 2 general election aren’t due until next week. It will be interesting to see how active the group has been since then, and how much more campaigning Lawrence United will do in the closing days of the race.
I wonder what type of music they play in Mexican musical chairs. Whatever it is, keep an ear out for it on Massachusetts Street.
I’ve gotten confirmation that the popular Mexican/Latin American eatery La Parrilla will be moving into the space that recently was vacated by Tapas at 724 Massachusetts Street.
Allison Vance Moore, of the Lawrence office of Colliers International, confirmed to me that she has brokered a deal for the owners of La Parrilla to buy the large downtown building that previously housed several other restaurants, including Joe Shmo’s, and way back when, Prairie Fire.
The purchase was finalized on Friday, and Moore said La Parrilla has tentatively set a late spring timeline to open in the new location, a block from its current spot at 814 Massachusetts.
La Parrilla has been open in downtown since 1999, when Subarna Bhattachan and Alejandro Lule teamed up to open the restaurant that focuses on dishes from Mexico, Central America and South America. The duo has become one of the more successful restaurant teams in downtown over the last decade. The pair also is part of the ownership group that owns Zen Zero and Genovese restaurants. Last spring, the pair began a Kansas City area expansion, opening a La Parrilla at 119th and Strang Line Road in Olathe.
I haven’t yet gotten in touch with Bhattachan or Lule to find out their plans for the new space, which is significantly larger than what they have currently.
But Moore told me there has been some talk of using the upstairs space at the new location for private parties or to host special events, similar to the wine and food tastings that Genovese frequently hosts.
If I get in touch with either of the two chefs today, I’ll let you know of anything else interesting.
As for Tapas, we reported last week that it plans to re-open but hasn’t yet announced a new location or timeline. I still haven’t confirmed either, but sources tell me that Tapas indeed is serious about re-opening. I’m told a location on Massachusetts Street is most likely.
Then there is La Parrilla’s soon-to-be-former spot at 814 Massachusetts Street. That building is owned by a company led by longtime Lawrence landlords George and Judy Paley. I also don’t have anything confirmed about its future, but sources tell me a tenant already is in the works, most likely a restaurant of some sort. So, plenty more to write about in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, cue the music, and somebody start packing the chips and salsa.
Perhaps this is one more sign that a recovery in Lawrence’s housing market is starting to take hold.
Leaders with The University National Bank of Lawrence announced today that federal regulators recently have ended their special oversight of the bank, which was related to the bank’s struggles during the real estate downturn.
According to federal documents, the Comptroller of the Currency has ended a Formal Agreement that it had with The University National Bank dating back to 2009. The Formal Agreement had placed lending limitations on the bank and had required the bank to undertake a special strategic plan.
“We could not be more pleased with this news,” said Todd Sutherland, president and CEO of the bank. “This decision by our primary regulator validates our long-term strategic vision that UNB will continue to serve its customers, shareholders and staff in a safe and sound manner well into the future.”
Sutherland said the bank now is free to pursue the strategies it sees fit for the Lawrence market, both in residential and commercial lending.
Sutherland told me that he believe there is reason for some optimism on the residential real estate front. “We’re starting to see some positive signs,” Sutherland said. “I think housing is starting to recover, although slowly. But we’re seeing again that houses that are priced appropriately will sell. We’ve had a correction take place.”
Sutherland said he has a strong outlook for 2013.
“We’re very positive on it,” Sutherland said. “As long as interest rates stay low, and the Fed has made that commitment, it bodes well for housing.”
New downtown store opens with focus on selling locally produced goods; Warehouse Arts District hires promoter, moving ahead with second loft apartment project
Even if you are like me and know more about pizzas than Picassos and understand mimosas better than Monet, it is still hard to miss that there is a significant art trend underway in downtown Lawrence.
There’s the Warehouse Arts District that continues to form around the old Poehler grocery warehouse building in East Lawrence, the Final Fridays events seem to be growing larger downtown, the Lawrence Arts Center is in competition for some major grants, and the city recently formed a new “cultural district” to encompass downtown and the surrounding area in an effort to create a more comprehensive effort to showcase the arts. What folks may not be picking up on as much is that the private sector is getting in on the act, too. The latest example is Essential Goods, a new arts and crafts based stored at 15 E. Seventh St.
The store, which is in space above the Java Break, carries the work of local artists and craftsmen, said Molly Crook, an owner of the new shop. The work includes handmade sweaters, purses, local photography, a variety of jewelry, cards and prints, locally made candles and a line of natural body care products. About a third of the space is devoted to a studio that produces the body care products and candles.
The bulk of the store’s inventory, though, comes from other area artists — about 20 at this point — who sell their work on consignment. Crook said that is becoming a real trend in downtown, following on the success of the Massachusetts Street-based store Made, which also sells locally produced products.
“It has been neat,” Crook said. “Stores like Made have really opened up a portal. Before, everybody was just trying to do this online.”
Crook said it will be interesting to see how far the trend goes. Already she is noticing more traditional downtown retailers starting to carry locally produced goods as part of their inventories.
“I definitely think people are looking for more local and handmade works,” Crook said.
The new store currently is open Thursday through Saturday, but Crook said an expansion of hours is being considered.
As I mentioned above, the Warehouse Arts District near the area of Eighth and Pennsylvania streets is continuing to make noise. The latest is it has hired a new full-time employee to promote the district.
Patti McCormick, who worked for several years as the main promoter for the local group that owns The Oread and The Eldridge hotels, has been hired by developer Tony Krsnich to promote the district.
McCormick said she is entering the job with the idea that the district has a chance to become a “national creative arts destination.” There already are several artists who have their studios in what is called the SeedCo Building, an old warehouse a bit south of the Eighth and Pennsylvania intersection.
The district, though, will make its biggest splash in the coming weeks. McCormick said the Cider Gallery is scheduled to open by the end of the month in a building just west of the renovated Poehler Lofts building. The gallery, as we’ve previously reported, will be a sister gallery to the Kansas City-based Weinberger Fine Art Gallery. McCormick said the plan calls for the Lawrence gallery to feature “nationally recognized, emerging and museum quality artists.”
Also, as we’ve previously reported, Krsnich and his partners have a plan to build a new building to house apartment lofts on vacant ground just south of the Poehler building. The latest news on that project is that Krsnich has settled on a size and has submitted an application for low-income housing tax credits to the state. According to information provided to the city, Krsnich is planning on a 40-unit loft development, with 34 of the units being designated as low-income units that would have rent-controls placed upon them by the state.
City officials recently wrote a letter of support for the project to the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, which hands out the tax credits. It looks like the agency is expected to make a decision in May on what projects will be awarded credits.
Rebecca Buford, executive director of Lawrence's Tenants to Homeowners, also confirmed to me today that Tenants to Homeowners will be a partner in the project. The organization will be the nonprofit partner that will allow the project to apply for $400,000 in state HOME funds and $400,000 in funds from the Federal Home Loan Bank.
Tenants to Homeowners main mission is to help people buy affordable housing in the city, but Buford said her organization has seen a need to increase affordable rental units in the city.
"There are plenty of apartments in Lawrence," Buford said. "That's not the problem. There is just a gap in affordability."
Once the project is built, the development group — not Tenants to Homeowners — will serve as the manager of the project, but Tenants to Homeowners will have an oversight role.
One last art item to get out of the system. If you are an actual artist who has a Lawrence-based project on your mind, there’s a grant program out there wanting to hear from you. But the deadline is quickly approaching. The deadline for the city of Lawrence’s Community Arts Grant program is 5 p.m. on March 25. The program uses city funds to provide grants of $500 to $2,000 for projects that “promote awareness and appreciation of the arts in Lawrence and encourages arts collaborations within the community.” Click here for an application.
Census rejects city’s appeal of 2010 population totals; new Census numbers for Douglas County show growth slowed in 2012
I suppose all great disputes get to this point: the discussion of fecal matter.
That is what it has come to in the dispute between Lawrence City Hall and the U.S. Census Bureau.
The city and the Census Bureau still don’t agree on how many people live in Lawrence, and now it is official. The Census Bureau recently notified the city it has rejected the city’s appeal of the bureau’s 2010 Census findings for the city.
No matter, city officials are convinced their local data showing the city has a little more than 94,000 people is correct. And they have at least one unique piece of evidence to back it up: the weight of fecal matter.
City commissioners were told at their Tuesday meeting that the city has at least 30 years worth of data about how much “organic material” comes into the city’s sewer plant each year. (Yes, “organic material” is code for just what you are thinking.) Over the years, that number broken out on a per capita basis has remained pretty steady. Officials with the city’s utilities department told commissioners that the numbers they’re seeing tend to support the city’s population estimate more so than the Census Bureau’s count.
And that sounded good to city commissioners. (Well, maybe that’s not the best way to say that.) Regardless, the new direction for the city is to use the locally produced population estimates rather than relying on data from the Census that local officials now question.
The difference is significant. In 2010, the Census found the city had 87,643 people. The city believed it had about 90,000 people. The city’s Planning Department now estimates the city’s 2013 population to be 94,586 people. The Census hasn’t produced a 2013 population estimate yet, but the city expects it to be around 90,000 people. That’s a difference of about 5 percent.
And the difference likely will get bigger as more years pass because all the estimates use the 2010 total as a baseline. By 2020, who knows how much the Census Bureau and the city will disagree on the city’s population. The numbers have an impact on federal grants and that sort of thing, but the city also needs a good population number to do good planning. Like for a $64 million sewage treatment plant that the city gave preliminary approval to on Tuesday. (That’s why fecal matter data was so readily available, in case you are wondering.)
Population growth is one factor — although not the only one — in the city’s decision to move forward on the large project. The city is betting on a new era of growth. There’s a case to be made for that, but the city can’t point to Census data as a reason for their optimism.
With this appeal now in the books, the decade of the 2000s is now officially the slowest growth period for Lawrence since the Great Depression. The city grew at a rate of 0.9 percent a year for the decade of the 2000s, well below the more than 2 percent annual growth rates the city experienced in the 1980s and 1990s.
As for who is right and who is wrong in this dispute, I don’t know. The fecal data is interesting (never know what phrases you are going to write in this job), but it may not be the best indicator. As utility officials admit, not all of that material is human waste and not all of it comes from households. For example, when Hallmark starts producing more cards and envelopes as part of its Lawrence expansion, that project is expected to produce waste that is the equivalent of about 500 additional people. So, you can see how the numbers may be tough to interpret.
The Census Bureau, though, hasn’t done much to increase its credibility either. In notifying the city it was rejecting its appeal, the bureau did admit that it had messed up the count in some areas of town. But the Census is contending that it got the total count for the city right, but it didn’t allocate that population to some of the neighborhoods correctly. City officials have raised their eyebrows at that.
Tuesday’s meeting and its fecal content did produce a few good jokes from commissioners — mainly about how the city may want to offer its “weighing pooh” method to the Census Bureau.
What won’t be funny is if the city plans for and budgets for a lot of growth, and then it doesn’t happen. We’ll see who gets the last laugh — in about a decade or so.
These numbers are just in this morning, so I thought I would add them on here. The Census Bureau has released it 2012 population estimates for Douglas County.
The new numbers won’t do anything to settle the dispute. If anything, they just add to it.
The Census Bureau found that from July 1, 2011, to July 1, 2012, Douglas County grew at a rate even slower than the rate the 2010 Census found.
The 2012 Douglas County population estimate checks in at 112,864 people, an increase of just 620 people for the year. That’s a growth rate of 0.5 percent. The 2010 Census found Douglas County during the decade of the 2000s grew at an average annual rate of about 1 percent. So now the Census Bureau is estimating we’re growing at about half that rate.
Oh, fecal matter.
Perhaps, the problem is we just don’t have enough purple. The new numbers show population growth around Kansas State University continues to boom. Manhattan’s metro area had a 2.8 percent population increase for the year, the 10th fastest for any metro area in the country.
Geary County, home to Junction City, had an increase of 7.4 percent for the year, the third fastest growth rate of any county in the country.
Douglas County did better than several other places, though. Several counties around us declined for the year. Here’s a look at the numbers for some other area counties:
— Johnson County 559,913 people (1.2 percent growth) — Leavenworth: 77,739 (0.7 percent increase) — Wyandotte: 159,129 ( 0.7 percent increase) — Sedgwick: 503,899 (0.5 percent increase) — Shawnee 178,991 (less than 0.1 percent increase) — Franklin County 25,906 (less than 0.1 percent decline) — Jefferson County 18,945 (0.2 percent decline) — Osage County: 16,142 (1.1 percent decline)
Perhaps you have heard about it, and now you’ll get to see it too: The proposed $25 million city-owned recreation center in Rock Chalk Park.
The city will host an open house from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on March 26 at City Hall for folks to view plans and renderings for the proposed 181,000-square-foot, eight-gym recreation center.
City officials are getting the open house in right under the wire. About 30 minutes after the open house concludes, commissioners are scheduled give the OK for the city to seek bids on the project.
In other words, if you want to provide any feedback to commissioners that they’ll have time to consider, you may want to take a look at the plans and renderings now. Click here to see what the city has available.
The basic components of the center really hasn’t changed from what has been proposed for many months. Among the major features:
• Eight full-court gyms that also can be used as 16 cross-court gyms or 16 volleyball courts.
• An indoor turf area that will be striped to accommodate one full length soccer field or three cross court fields.
• A gymnastics area.
• A four-lane, indoor walking/running track.
• A dance studio.
• A cardio and weight room area.
• Two party rooms that can be rented for birthday parties and other such events.
But what we haven’t seen much of — especially since the project moved from the west side of Sixth Street and the SLT interchange to the east side of the road — are renderings of the exterior. The city now has a couple of those that they are sharing.
The March 26 open house will be a come-and-go type of event rather than a forum during which the city takes comment about the project. But I’m sure there will be city officials on hand who will be able to answer questions.
In terms of questions, I still get a few from readers about the project. Let me see if I can answer a couple of them here.
• Have all the key votes on the project already taken place? No. On March 5, the City Commission on a 4-1 vote approved a development agreement for the project. That certainly was the most significant vote the commission has taken on the recreation center project yet. It sent the clear message that the city plans to build the recreation center, and the agreement seems to commit the city to pay at least $2 million worth of costs, if for some reason it decides not to build the center.
• What other votes are left to be taken? Well, the city will have to vote to put the project out to bid at the March 26 meeting. That shouldn’t be much of a deal. But there are two more votes that will be a little more interesting because they both will come after a new City Commission is seated on April 9. One vote will be to accept construction bids for the project, and the other will be to issue bonds that will pay for the project. Those votes are where the rubber meets the road.
• Does the current crop of City Commission candidates have any interest in revisiting the issue? Might they choose not to accept the construction bids? Well, legally, the new City Commission could choose to reject the bids or decline to issue debt for the project. There’s nothing in the approved development agreement that forces the next City Commission to do the project.
But whether there are any candidates who have a strong inclination to reverse the decision of a previous City Commission is a bit hard to ascertain. What is clear: Two candidates — Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan — have been pretty supportive of the recreation center project throughout their campaign.
Mike Amyx — the lone incumbent in the field — voted against the project. Rob Chestnut, as a member of the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee, voted against recommending the package of economic development incentives for the KU-oriented projects in the adjacent Rock Chalk Park project. But that’s different from saying he doesn’t support the recreation center project and, indeed, he has said he likes the concept, although he has some concerns about the financial arrangements. At a March 6 Voter Education Coalition forum, he made statements indicating he wouldn’t be game for reversing the past commission’s decisions on the project.
The two remaining candidates — Scott Criqui and Leslie Soden — have expressed multiple concerns about the project, but when asked about the project at the March 6 forum, neither said anything about overturning the City Commission’s decision on the issue. But that also wasn’t exactly the question they were asked by the moderator.
At Monday’s North Lawrence candidate forum, Soden, Criqui and Amyx all brought up the recreation issue unsolicited. Soden said she was interested in reducing the size of the building by half, and Amyx made an interesting statement.
“The next City Commission will do more on this project than the current commission,” Amyx told the crowd. “We’re going to be dealing with the financing of it. Three members of this panel right here will become a majority of the next commission. That’s a reason to get out and vote.”
So, tough to ascertain what type of issue the recreation center will be on the campaign trail. But as part of our campaign coverage, we will attempt to get the candidates to more directly answer the question of whether they would consider overturning the city commission’s previous decision on the issue.
But here’s something to remember: Math makes it unlikely that such an overturn will happen. Two existing commissioners will remain on the commission: Bob Schumm and Mike Dever. They are the two strongest supporters of the recreation center project on the commission. That means three candidates who disfavor the current project would have to win in the City Commission election.
After the primary, Amyx, Farmer and Riordan held the top three spots. As we’ve noted, two of those three have expressed consistent support for the proposed project.
With weather like this, it soon will be time to hit the golf course. (For my golfing buddy, that also means it will be time to hit course-side houses, vehicles passing by the course, and innocent bystanders in the next fairway over.)
Now, you have a new option to do all of that — sort of. The Orchards Golf Course — in between Kasold and Iowa on Bob Billings Parkway — has been sold and changed its name. It is now operating as CobbleStone Golf Course. (That sounds appropriate for my buddy. He is constantly trying to cobble together a swing, and the people who have the misfortune of playing behind us often want to stone him.)
Richard McGhee, a Topeka resident and retired executive from Blue Cross Blue Shield, finalized his purchase of the course from longtime owner Ed White last week.
McGhee — who owns the course with his wife, Chris — said his plans simply are to keep the course in as nice a shape as possible and market the facility to people who are looking for a quicker round of golf.
The course is a short, nine-hole facility that was built to serve as an “executive golf course.” Depending on your skill, the course is designed to be played in less than two hours.
“We are interested in catering to people who like a shorter course,” McGhee said. “That might be youth or high school players or senior citizens or anybody in the middle. I’ve had some people tell me they go in a half-hour early to work, stay a half-hour late, take an extra 45 minutes for lunch and they can justify playing a round of golf out here over their lunch break.” (My buddy tried combining eating and golfing once. A golf ball ended up in a living room, and, well, I won’t even tell you where the hot dog ended up.)
Rates at the new course are $16 for weekend play, walking. On weekdays, the rate drops to $11, and McGhee is offering a $10 weekday rate for high school students and seniors.
Terms of the Orchards sale weren't disclosed, but the property previously had an asking price of $385,000.
McGhee, who is new to the business of owning a golf course, said he bought the property to operate as a golf course. That’s a good thing because there is a covenant on the course’s property that calls for it to forever be a golf course or else become open space.
Neighbors around the course several years ago banded together to pay former owner White development rights for the course. At the time, White had put the property on the market and was considering offers from developers who wanted to convert the course into a residential development.
The golf business may get interesting in Lawrence again. Business has picked up at the city’s Eagle Bend Golf Course. The course below the Clinton Lake Dam turned an operating profit in 2012 of $27,000 — which means its revenue was that much above its expenses, not including its debt payment.
But I think everybody in the local golf industry will be watching with interest what happens in northwest Lawrence. As we previously have reported, the Arkansas-based company that has proposed The Links project seems serious about actually building it this year. The property would be just east of the proposed Rock Chalk Park sports village at Sixth and the SLT. The project would include a nine-hole golf course surrounded by 630 apartments.
Tenants of the apartment will have green fees included in their rent. What will be interesting to see is if The Links also allows public play on the course. The company has allowed that at some of their other properties around the country. Either way, it seems like the new course will take some rounds away from some area courses.
The project has its necessary zoning and major development approvals, so if the company is serious, I would think work would begin in the near future.
Hallmark now believes about 200 jobs will be added to Lawrence plant when work moves from shuttered Topeka facility
Officials with Hallmark have revealed more details about their ongoing efforts to close their Topeka plant and transfer the work to the company’s Lawrence facility.
And it is more good news for Lawrence.
The greeting card company is now estimating there will be about 700 jobs at the Lawrence production center, 101 McDonald Drive, when the transition is complete at the end of the year.
That’s up from the about 500 employees the Lawrence plant has had over the past several years, and it also is more than what Hallmark officials indicated when they made the consolidation announcement in October. Back then, Hallmark officials estimated it would have about 1,000 employees in northeast Kansas and that they would be about evenly split between the company’s Lawrence and Leavenworth plants.
Hallmark officials now are estimating the Leavenworth plant will have about 300 employees.
“I would caution everyone that there is still a big ‘about’ in front of all those statements, but those are the numbers we’re planning on right now,” Linda Odell, a Hallmark spokeswoman, said.
Hallmark officials said they now expect the Topeka plant, which has been open since 1966, to close by the end of the year. Work to ready the Lawrence plant for the new employees already is under way.
As we previously reported, city officials in January issued a $600,000 building permit for interior modifications at the Hallmark plant. In February, city officials issued permits for another $556,500, bringing total construction work at the site to $1.15 million.
Odell said the company is not planning a physical expansion of the building, but rather is making modifications to the interior to accommodate additional equipment.
When the transition is complete, the Lawrence production center will produce all domestic Hallmark greeting cards and envelopes. Previously, the Topeka plant was responsible for all domestic production of envelopes, and Lawrence and Topeka shared in the greeting card production.
Lawrence’s ribbon and sticker production lines are being moved to the company’s Leavenworth plant. Odell said she didn’t yet have an estimate of how many of the new Lawrence jobs will be transfers from Topeka versus new hires to the company.
She said over the last several months Hallmark has been offering voluntary buyouts to employees who have shown an interest in leaving the company. Odell said nearly 300 employees have taken advantage of the program. Hallmark is reducing its workforce in northeast Kansas from about 1,300 to 1,000 people in an effort to improve the company’s cost structure.
Odell also didn’t have an estimate on the wages for the new positions, but she said the new Lawrence jobs would be very similar to the production positions that already exist at the plant.
Also on Tuesday, the company made two management announcements for the Lawrence plant. Lawrence resident David Millen has been appointed to oversee domestic greeting card production for Hallmark.
Millen previously had been the general manager for Hallmark’s Topeka plant. He now will oversee operations in Lawrence as part of his new job.
Keith Kennedy, who has been the general manager of the Lawrence plant since 2010, is now overseeing the consolidation efforts for Hallmark in northeast Kansas.