Posts tagged with Lawrence
The corner of 23rd and O’Connell may be the latest to try to lure retirees to Lawrence. Plans have been filed to build a 90-unit, independent senior living community near the intersection.
Olathe developer Dave Rhodes has filed a plan to develop about nine acres of vacant ground at 2101 Exchange Court, which is just south of the 23rd and O’Connell intersection and on the west side of O’Connell Drive.
I’ve put a call into Rhodes, but haven’t yet heard back. But the plans filed at City Hall describe the project as independent living retirement community. It will be a sizable one at that. The proposal calls for 15 buildings with six living units per building. Each building will have four two-bedroom units and two one-bedroom units. The development also will include a 2,000-square-foot leasing office.
We’ve previously reported that Rhodes had sought affordable housing tax credits to help finance the project. I haven’t gotten word on whether the project has received those tax credits, but I’m working to get that information. If the credits were received, that would mean that the project would be rent-controlled, and residents would have to meet certain guidelines. Rhodes previously has said the project would be limited to residents 55 years old and over. I’ll let you know when I hear more. He's previously described the project as being about a $16 million investment.
When we reported on the project in November, Rhodes said his development group owned five other affordable “garden/ranch style apartment” developments in Kansas, and also owned or managed about 350 conventional apartment units.
The property already has the necessary zoning in place to allow for the development. City officials now need to approve a site plan for the project to proceed.
It will be an interesting development to watch for a couple of reasons. One is that it continues a trend of Lawrence trying to become more of a destination for retirees. But the other reason is because the new living units could help spur additional commercial development at 23rd and O’Connell.
The southeast corner of 23rd and O’Connell is zoned for commercial uses, but other than a Tractor Supply store, retail development hasn’t yet come to the corner. The general thought on why retail has been slow to develop there is because retailers want to see more homes in close proximity to the intersection. I’m not sure 90 new units will push the area over the top, but there’s also residential zoning just to the south of the retail area, and work to install roads and other infrastructure to accommodate future residential development has occurred on the site.
That’s all for Town Talk today. I know, it was short, but I have an excuse. I have to go weigh pigs. Really, I’m not making that up. It is Douglas County Fair week, and this morning is the day we find out how fat my kids’ 4-H pigs have become. In fact, I’ll probably be near the corner of 23rd and O’Connell to visit the nearby Tractor Supply store. I might be there to buy feed, but it may be too late for that. Perhaps they sell a brick I can put on the scale.
Promoter not sure now on canceling 1,000-foot water slide event in west Lawrence; city gets report on its financial health
UPDATE 1:30 p.m.: Maybe there will be bubbles on this 1,000-foot water slide, because the idea of hosting The Urban Slide in a west Lawrence neighborhood quickly is turning into a soap opera.
Ryan Robinson, owner of Lawrence-based Silverback Productions, reached out to me today and said he’s now decided not to cancel the event — at least not yet. He said he’s rescinded his previous request to have the item pulled from tomorrow’s City Commission agenda.
Instead, he wants to have a hearing on his original proposal to temporarily close a portion of George Williams Way south of Sixth Street to accommodate the event. But he’s also put forward an alternative proposal that would close a portion of George Williams way north of Sixth Street to accommodate the event. If neither one of those proposals wins commission support, he said he would cancel the event.
“We want the neighbors to speak up and tell the commission what they want,” Robinson said. “We will be fine with whatever the commission tells us to do. We are in the community-building business. We don’t want to create any problems.”
As for the new proposal to place the slide north of Sixth Street on George Williams Way, Robinson said he thinks the idea has good potential. That section of road is a four-lane street. It leads into the Rock Chalk Park sports complex. Robinson said the western two lanes of the street could be closed, and the eastern two lanes could be open for two-way traffic. Participants could park in the large parking lot at Rock Chalk Park.
Robinson said he had proposed the idea of placing the slide on the southern side of George Williams Way because he thought that would make it more of a neighborhood event that people could walk to or bike to.
Robinson said the whole issue has been frustrating. He said The Urban Slide event is one of the simpler ones his company produces each year. The company specializes in marathons and other races that stretch over broad geographical areas.
The company has hosted several events in Lawrence — it produces The Color Run that brings thousands to downtown Lawrence. He stopped short of saying he would stop producing events in Lawrence, but did acknowledge that producing events in the community has become frustrating.
“The only reason we bring events to Lawrence is because we like to bring cool stuff to town,” Robinson said. “We generate less than 1 percent of our revenue off of the events we do in Lawrence.”
He said the reaction to The Urban Slide event probably will cause the company to re-evaluate what events it wants to host in Lawrence in the future.
“It does sour us some, but we’re a resilient bunch,” Robinson said. “We’re going to continue to call Lawrence home, and we’re going to continue to work out of here.”
If you want a 1,000-foot waterslide in your neighborhood it looks like we are going to have to go back to our original plan of a garden hose and a whole lot of trash bags duct-taped together. That’s right. The idea of The Urban Slide coming to a west Lawrence neighborhood next month appears to be dead.
Last week we told you that Lawrence-based Silverback Productions had filed for a city permit to temporarily set up a 1,000-foot water slide on the portion of George Williams Way between Sixth Street and Harvard Road. But I’ve now received an email from a Silverback official saying that the company is pulling its request for the permit and will cancel the Lawrence event, which was set for Aug. 8-9. Concerns from neighbors apparently did the event in, and Silverback owner Ryan Robinson sounded a bit frustrated about it in a letter he sent to city officials this weekend.
“I think anyone that knows myself and the work that Silverback does within this community knows that we only wish to bring goodness, happiness and prosperity to this city,” Robinson wrote in a letter asking the permit application to be withdrawn from Tuesday’s City Commission agenda. “However, for a variety of reasons we are finding it is harder and harder to do that within Lawrence, and quite frankly the trouble is not worth the gain.”
I had heard late Friday afternoon that City Hall was getting quite a few phone calls from people about the idea of closing down George Williams Way to accommodate the event. Questions about parking and other effects the event may have on the area also were asked.
Robinson said Silverback — which produces The Color Run and other similar large events — said in his letter that his company had a detailed plan for how to run the event. But Robinson indicated that the event was not receiving a warm reception, and specifically cited a letter from neighborhood resident Mike Kelly, who asked city officials a variety of questions about the event’s potential impact on the neighborhood.
Robinson wrote that his company does not do business by “forcing events into unwelcoming communities.”
“We would never do anything in Lawrence to jeopardize our reputation or the good that we have brought this city over the years,” Robinson said. “We will politely bow out into the open arms of one (of) the other 225 welcoming cities that we work with on an annual basis.”
No word yet on what the plan is for folks who have already bought tickets in advance for the event, which had been advertised online for months now. I assume, however, Silverback will provide details about some sort of refund program.
In other news and notes from around town:
• A 1,000-foot slide is one thing. A 10-year long slide is another. City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday evening will be discussing a decade long slide.
Commissioners will receive an annual report from City Auditor Michael Eglinski, who takes a look at a host of financial indicators for the city. The city fares pretty well in many of the categories measured, but there is one category that serves as a reminder of the major issue facing city leaders: the measurement of job growth and tax base growth in the community.
As part of the report, Eglinski looked at 20 years worth of job growth and tax base growth data. The numbers show it definitely has been a tale of two decades for Lawrence. From 1995 to 2004, growth in nonfarm employment in the Lawrence metro area averaged 2 percent per year. From 2005 to 2014, it has averaged 0.1 percent per year.
Flip the page to assessed valuation — the community’s tax base — and the numbers are even more stark. From 1995 to 2004, the tax base grew by an average of 8.1 percent per year. From 2005 to 2014, the average growth rate dropped to 1.3 percent.
Of course, the decade of 2005 to 2014 included a major recession. But the numbers indicate that wasn’t the only issue at play in the slowdown. These two charts indicate that Lawrence was experiencing a flattening — especially in jobs — before the recession hit in late 2008 or 2009.
The future is more important than the past on this subject, though. Lawrence has seen some better job numbers of late. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts out a monthly report of job totals for metro areas. The most recent data is for May. It shows Lawrence added about 800 jobs from May 2014 to May 2015. That’s an increase of about 1.5 percent, which is quite a bit better than the 0.1 percent average of the last decade. In fact, the 1.5 percent growth rate was the best in the state during that time period. Manhattan was next at 0.7 percent, then Topeka at 0.5 percent, and Wichita saw job losses of 0.4 percent. Kansas City is counted in Missouri, and it came in at 1.6 percent.
It seems like job growth should be a key metric for Lawrence leaders to track. As talk grows about Lawrence and Douglas County creating a new comprehensive plan or vision for the community, it will be interesting to see if leader set a specific goal for how much they want job numbers to grow during the next decade.
The city auditor’s report had several other findings. Here’s a look:
— Lawrence’s debt totals are on the rise, and are at a decade high by at least one measure. The amount of debt per person — adjusted for inflation — is at a 10-year high, Eglinski found. The amount of debt checks in at about $1,100 per person in 2014. That’s up from about $700 per person in 2013. Major projects like the library, Rock Chalk Park, and various street improvements have helped push those totals higher. It is worth noting that until 2014, Lawrence’s per capita debt totals had been on a decline since 2008. But the previous City Commission brought borrowing back in a big way, as the chart below shows.
— Governments borrow money to spend it, so it should be no surprise that the amount of city government spending per resident also is at a 10-year high. The inflation-adjusted amount in 2014 checks in at about $1,400 per person, but from about $1,300 per person in 2013. As the chart below indicates, city spending per resident has been on a steady increase since 2011.
— Eglinski compares Lawrence’s financial indicators to about 15 “benchmark communities” that include: Iowa City; Norman, Okla.; Bloomington, Ind.; Auburn, Ala.; State College, Pa., and several other college communities. The report found Lawrence was outperforming the benchmark communities in three areas: the city’s financial ability to maintain services; the city’s growth of financial resources; the average age of capital assets such as roads and buildings.
— The report found Lawrence compared less favorably to the benchmark communities in three areas: the city’s liquidity, which measures how quickly the city could have cash to meet immediate needs; the amount of long-term liabilities, such as debt; the amount of the city’s budget devoted to interest payments, which affects the city’s financial flexibility.
— The report also looked at the financial indicators for the city’s utilities department and other divisions of the city that are funded primarily by rates rather than taxes. It found those rate-based divisions — water, sewer and trash service are among the big departments — compared less favorably to benchmark cities in three categories and more favorably in one category. Where the city compared less favorable was in ability to maintain services; financial resource growth; and liquidity to meet immediate needs. The one area where the city compared more favorably is in the rate of aging of capital assets such as utility infrastructure.
You can see the entire report here. Commissioners will discuss it at their 5:45 p.m. meeting on Tuesday at City Hall.
Baldwin City firm plans to start offering gigabit Internet service in Lawrence in early 2016; vehicle accident blamed for WOW Internet woes; Wheat State Pizza closes in Lawrence
A company that is installing super fast broadband service in Baldwin City today, says it likely will begin offering the service in Lawrence in early 2016.
Baldwin City-based RG Fiber is close to signing a lease agreement with the city of Lawrence that will give the company access to a ring of city-owned fiber optic cable that is needed to launch a gigabit broadband service in Lawrence.
City commissioners are scheduled to approve the lease agreement as part of their consent agenda on Tuesday evening. Mike Bosch, chief executive of RG Fiber, said that’s one of the last pieces of paperwork needed for his company to start a major broadband project in Lawrence. Bosch has begun accepting preregistrations for gigabit service at rgfiber.com/signup.
If this lease agreement with the city is one of the final pieces needed for the Lawrence project, you may be wondering why work won’t begin until at least 2016. The simple answer is because Bosch is busy making Baldwin City king of the Douglas County digital world. RG Fiber currently is installing fiber in Baldwin City. We have an article in today’s Journal-World about how Baker University will have the super-fast broadband service everywhere from classrooms to dorm rooms. Baker University students are surely destined to rule the world for awhile because they’ll have enough broadband to simultaneously watch YouTube, update on Facebook, post on Twitter and do something called Hulu. (What? I don’t have to shake my hips like that when I say Hulu? You’re sure it doesn’t have something to do with a hula hoop?)
Baker is expected to have the service within the first two weeks of August, and then customers in other parts of the town will be hooked up. After the Baldwin City project is well along, Bosch will start hooking up homes and businesses in Eudora in late 2015. Then, Lawrence will get its chance. That’s right, Lawrence is the largest city in the county, but we’re third on this list. RG Fiber tried to get a lease agreement with the previous Lawrence city commission that would have allowed the Lawrence project to get started quicker, but that deal moved slower than my Miss Pac-man game connected to dial-up.
The new group of city commissioners elected in April restarted those lease talks with RG Fiber. Bosch said he’s now confident the Lawrence project will happen.
“People are genuinely excited about getting this in Lawrence,” Bosch said. “They can see that Baldwin City is a real thing. They know it wasn’t just talk.”
Bosch said the number of signups he receives in Lawrence will play a role in where the company decides to offer the service in the city. He said the most likely locations to be involved in the first phase of the project are neighborhoods near major city streets that already have city-owned fiber in the rights-of-way. Those streets include: Sixth, Clinton Parkway, 23rd Street, Wakarusa and parts of Iowa between Sixth and 23rd streets.
The project will include more than just gigabit Internet service, which is the same speed of service the much ballyhooed Google Fiber project is delivering in parts of Kansas City. In addition to the gigabit service, RG also will offer video cable television packages and phone service, Bosch said. The company is marketing those services in Baldwin City currently. Bosch said he’s still working on a pricing plan for Lawrence, but expects gigabit service to run around $85 to $90 per month. If you want to bundle Internet, television and phone, that service likely would start at about $170 per month.
It will be interesting to watch how this project develops in the coming months. There certainly has been some skepticism among some about whether a startup company like RG can actually deliver a working broadband system. By the time the project gets to Lawrence, there should be some indication of how service levels are in Baldwin City and Eudora.
The last group of city commissioners also got bogged down with the question of whether a company like RG Fiber could make this sort of broadband service available throughout the community. That will be a key issue to follow in the years to come. Will the service make its way into lower income portions of the city? Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband had proposed a different type of system to bring gigabit service to Lawrence. It wanted to create a regulatory system called an “open access” network. An open access network would allow multiple providers to use the same sets of fiber optic cables to get service to people’s homes and businesses. But RG and other companies said creating such a regulation would serve as a major disincentive for other broadband providers to invest in Lawrence. A city-hired consultant largely agreed, so the current crop of city commissioners have moved past that idea and allowed the RG project to move forward.
But if a few years go by and the gigabit service is largely contained to just a few prosperous areas of Lawrence, there may be a discussion about whether the city should offer a city-owned broadband service. That would cost tens of millions of dollars to build. But who knows? Maybe by that time there will be something cooler and hipper than gigabit service that occupies our debates.
In other news and notes from around town:
UPDATE: I heard back from Debra Schmidt, local systems manager for WOW in Lawrence. She confirmed this weekend’s outage indeed was one of the larger ones the Lawrence cable/Internet system has experienced in recent years. She estimated about 4,500 accounts were without service at one point or another on Saturday.
As we previously reported, a vehicle accident on Kasold Drive caused the problems. A car hit a utility box that is a major splice point for WOW’s system in Lawrence.
“It probably was the worst damage we’ve ever had to the system,” Schmidt said.
The accident happened a little after 4:30 a.m. on Saturday. WOW responded to the scene shortly thereafter and had a crew of 10 workers on site until about 8 p.m. Saturday.
“I know it seemed long, but I can promise you we were working very hard to make the outage as short as possible,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said most customers had service restored before 8 p.m. Saturday, and she said there are no lingering issues left from the accident.
But WOW is experiencing technical difficulties on another front. Schmidt said last week the company installed new equipment related to its On Demand cable television service. She said that installation has created problems for some customers who are ordering On Demand programs or trying to watch On Demand programs.
A timeline for getting that issued resolved hasn’t been determined yet. She said several engineers are working on that issue currently. Schmidt didn’t have an estimate for the number of customers impacted by that technical difficulty, but she said the problem was not system wide.
• While we’re talking about Internet and cable, it was an eventful weekend for the city’s largest broadband provider, WOW. There have been multiple reports on social media of Internet outages and cable problems that occurred this weekend in Lawrence.
WOW’s Facebook page has a special note to Lawrence customers that says a vehicle accident occurred on Kasold north of Sixth Street about 4:30 a.m. Saturday. (The statement said near Kasold and Fourth Street, which caused my GPS to hiccup, so I’m assuming somewhere north of Sixth Street.) “This accident damaged a significant part of our fiber plant,” according to the statement. “Our crews are on site working diligently to restore service as soon as possible.”
Posts on social media, however, indicate there were some problems with video service prior to that accident. I sent an email to the local manager for WOW over the weekend, and she said she was working on an update of the situation. I reached out to here again this morning and will let you know when I hear more.
• We still have sunflower lapel pins and "Wizard of Oz" tattoos, but there is now one less way to show our Kansas pride. Lawrence’s Wheat State Pizza has closed its doors. As I noted on my Twitter feed late Friday (@clawhorn_ljw) the store’s last day of business was on Sunday.
Wheat State was a Kansas creation that used the state’s most famous crop — wheat — to create a unique pizza crust. The store opened about 11 years ago in The Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana streets. Brad and Jennifer Remington took over the business in 2010. Brad told me the intense competition in the Lawrence restaurant market caused the couple to look for other opportunities.
“There is obviously a lot of competition,” Brad Remington said. “It is not that anybody pushed us out. But we just aren’t really getting ahead in life doing this.”
Remington said the restaurant business is going through a cycle in Lawrence where more new restaurants are opening than the market can immediately support.
“I know a lot of restaurant people in town who are struggling right now,” Remington said. Remington said the ownership of The Malls had been good to work with, but finding successful restaurant locations in Lawrence is becoming more difficult as the restaurant scene becomes more concentrated.
“Eventually, you have to make that decision to move on,” he said. “Unless you are on Mass. or south Iowa Street, it is really difficult to get seen.”
Remington thanked his customers and said he had “made a lot of friends through this place.” Remington said he suspects there are more changes coming in the Lawrence restaurant scene as some other existing firms re-evaluate their position over the next year.
“I almost think the city has to put some sort of limit on how many new restaurants can open up, but I don’t know how the city could really do that,” Remington said. “But there are a lot of good, small, hometown businesses that are having a hard time competing right now.”
As for the future of Wheat State, founder Ryan Murphy continues to own the rights to the Wheat State name and recipes. Murphy told me in an email that he hopes to reopen a Wheat State Pizza in Lawrence at some point in the future. But it sounded like there were no definite plans. Murphy said he may start a crowd-funding campaign in the next few weeks to try to raise some money to open a new store. He said he likely would focus his efforts on finding a downtown location. I’ll let you know if I hear of any progress on that front.
More details emerge on pending west Lawrence retirement community; city set to tackle bus hub question; major changes to 21st Street possible
Plans for a proposed multimillion dollar senior living complex in West Lawrence are becoming clearer. The developer of the property has confirmed it has entered into a contract for an approximately four-acre site near Sixth and Queens Road.
We reported earlier this week that a Minnesota-based development firm was planning to develop a retirement cooperative that would include 52 living units, underground parking and other such amenities at a west Lawrence site. But at the time, the company — Village Cooperative — wasn’t yet ready to disclose the specific location.
Well, the company has now confirmed it has a contract to purchase a 4.1 acre vacant piece of property that is just south of Sixth Street where Queens Road would be if Queens Road extended south of Sixth Street. The property is the vacant piece on the southwest corner of the intersection, not the rural single-family home that sits on the southeast corner of the intersection.
It you want to get even more technical, the property is just north of where Branchwood Drive ends, which creates interesting questions. When the intersection is fully developed, will we have Queens Road on one side of Sixth Street and Branchwood Drive on the other, kind of like the confusion known as 15th Street and Bob Billings Parkway? Or like Legends Drive and Inverness Drive? Will my GPS explode on my dash? Will pizza delivery drivers simply throw boxes of pepperoni pizza in the ditch because they can’t find their intended address? Maybe there is an upside to this. Regardless, such issues are a ways off. Shane Wright, project manager for the co-op project has estimated construction won’t likely begin until next summer, and that is dependent upon the project pre-selling at least half of its units. He’s optimistic, though.
“Lawrence is a community people love living in,” Wright said. “There is pent-up demand for maintenance-free living options. You can find some, but they probably aren’t this type of ownership structure, and they maybe aren’t age restricted. The options in Lawrence right now are pretty limited.”
The company also has released a rendering of what the Lawrence project is expected to look like.
The development group — which is controlled by Minnesota-based Real Estate Equities Development, LLC — has develop about $235 million worth of residential projects, primarily in the Midwest. The company particularly has focused on senior living and the cooperative style of ownership. It has one development open in Johnson County and two more projects planned for construction in the KC metro area.
As we reported earlier this week, the cooperative style of ownership is a bit different for the Lawrence market. Instead of owning your individual unit, like you would in a condo development, you own a share of the entire housing complex. In the case of the Lawrence project — since it would have 52 living units — each owner would own a 1/52 share of the the entire complex. Wright said an advantage of that ownership structure is that the cooperative is responsible for all the maintenance of the property, even for the items that need fixing inside your unit. For example, if the dishwasher breaks, it will be the responsibility of the cooperative to fix or replace it since technically the cooperative owns it.
It will be interesting to see how the development — which will be limited to residents 62 and older — is received in Lawrence. The city certainly is interested in becoming more of a destination for retirees, and that likely will mean developments will have to be designed in ways far different than how we house thousands of students across town. It will be interesting to watch what the market comes up with.
As for these units, Village Cooperative plans to offer units ranging in size from about 870 feet to about 1,500 square feet. Prices, Wright said, likely will be about $75,000 to $125,000 per share. Residents then will pay a monthly fee of about $900 to $1,500 a month, with that fee covering property taxes, maintenance, some utilities and other such items.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is getting close to decision time for Lawrence city commissioners when it comes to a major bus issue. Commissioners need to figure out where the city’s main bus hub is going to be. The decision involves a multimillion dollar construction project, and perhaps more importantly, could go a long way in determining whether voters will be ready to extend a sales tax in coming years to continue funding the transit system.
Commissioners will talk about the subject at their Tuesday evening meeting. At issue will be whether the city should move forward with placing the transit hub — basically the place where most of the buses congregate and transfers are made — near 21st and Iowa streets. Commissioners Stuart Boley and Matthew Herbert both have expressed concerns about that location. But commissioners at their weekly meeting will receive a report that says transit leaders still believe that is the best location for the approximately $4 million project.
Boley and Herbert both wanted the city to take a harder look at a site near Ninth and Iowa streets, specifically a site in the parking lot behind The Merc. Transit leaders looked at that site once, and liked it, but then talks broke down with the property owner. The new report says they’ve reached out to the property owner again, but the ownership group stated clearly that it doesn’t have an interest in putting a transit hub at the site.
“The owner states the proposed site for the transit center would not be available because of ongoing leases and plans for future development,” the memo stated.
We’ll keep our eyes open for future development plans near Ninth and Iowa.
Meanwhile, that leaves the site near 21st and Iowa streets as the only one the city has on the table for the transit hub. Technically, the site is at 2021 Stewart Ave., which is just south of Fire Station No. 5 along Iowa Street.
If commissioners move forward with that site, though, they’ll likely have to approve some significant changes to 21st Street. Neighbors are concerned the transit hub will create more cut-through traffic on 21st Street. That’s because the bus hub project would require a traffic signal be installed at 21st and Iowa streets. A traffic signal would make 21st Street a pretty handy way to avoid large parts of 23rd Street.
To combat that, the city is contemplating installing a “traffic diverter” device that would stop motorists from turning off Iowa Street and heading east on 21st Street. The diverter would be placed at the intersection of 21st and Stewart Avenue, which means buses could still turn off Iowa Street and get to the transit hub, but no eastbound traffic would get past Stewart Avenue. Motorists wanting to access the portion of 21st Street east of Stewart Avenue would have to detour over to 19th or 23rd Streets and then cut back to 21st Street.
To be clear, though, 21st Street east of Stewart Avenue would continue to be a two-lane street, and westbound traffic on 21st Street would be able to continue on to Iowa Street. The diverter, though, should eliminate any reason for motorists looking for a shortcut to to turn off of Iowa Street onto 21st Street, said Robert Nugent, the city’s transit administrator.
A couple of other traffic-calming devices are planned for 21st Street as well. Nugent said two to three chicanes would be added to the street. Chicanes are basically a place in the road that becomes narrower for a stretch. The intent is the narrowness of the street slows traffic down. Those chicanes would be built at locations east of Stewart Avenue.
We’ll see what commissioners think of the plans. Boley likely will hear a lot about the subject because he lives in the neighborhood near the proposed transit hub. The hub issue has been on the City Commission’s radar for more than a year. A sense of urgency is building for the project, however. The city’s transit system is funded by a pair of sales taxes that were approved by voters in 2008. Those taxes have a 10-year sunset clause, meaning there will need to be another election in 2018, in order to renew the taxes.
Having the transit hub location in place well ahead of that election is desirable. When the city chooses a new transit hub location — currently it is in downtown, which transit leaders say has become too congested — it will have to make major changes to all of its current routes. Transit leaders want to make sure they have all that ironed out and working smoothly before they ask voters to renew a sales tax to fund the system.
The transit sales taxes in 2008 won by a landslide, so you would think that voters would look favorably on them again. But never assume too much. The state is increasing its sales tax rate, and perhaps voters will see a no vote on a transit sales tax as a chance to give themselves a tax cut. Plus, there are some people who still feel the bus service is not convenient enough. Commissioner Matthew Herbert has expressed that concern several times. If that sentiment starts to take hold in the community, that too will affect a sales tax vote.
We’ll see what commissioners do with all this. At this point, it looks like staff is seeking approval for the 21st and Iowa location, but commissioners could choose to open up another search for sites, or decide to keep the bus hub in downtown, despite concerns about the congestion problems the big buses are facing.
Commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday.
Dog treat business eyes East Lawrence for headquarters; roundabout talk at City Hall; city manager search update
Dogs around the country may end up getting a taste of East Lawrence, which may cause you to wonder whether canines soon will start creating funky art, hosting wild kickball games and forming their own powerful neighborhood association. But that’s not what I”m talking about. Instead, I have news of a business that plans to use an East Lawrence building to distribute dog treats across the country.
Lawrence businessman Gary Rexroad has confirmed that he and his wife, Angie, have purchased the long vacant building at the northwest corner of 11th and Pennsylvania streets to house a new dog treat venture. The Rexroads have been running a dog food business called Love Grub for the last couple of years. Its dog food is on the shelves of grocery and pet stores throughout the Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City area.
But about three months ago, the couple purchased the rights to Lucky Paws dog treats, which was created by Lawrence entrepreneur Raven Rajani. Rajani was looking to exit the business, and Rexroad purchased the recipes and the rights to market the product.
Rexroad said the dog treat business was appealing because dog treats are lightweight. Bags of dog food, on the other hand, are heavy. It costs a lot of money to ship bags of dog food to stores around the country, but shipping dog treats nationwide is much more feasible for a small company. Rexroad said the plan is to make the dog treat business a national one through deals with retailers and through online sales.
That’s where the East Lawrence building at 1045 Pennsylvania St. comes into play. Rexroad has filed plans at City Hall that would allow for the dog treats to be “manufactured” inside the building.
“Manufacturing is such a big word though,” Rexroad said. “It is not smokestacks or rendering plants or anything like that. It is just a commercial oven. Right now we are doing it out of our kitchen, but there is only so much volume you can do that way.”
Rexroad said the business already is having difficulty keeping up with the demand for the product. The company has negotiated a deal to be in Natural Grocer stores across the country. He said Lucky Paws seems to be filling a niche in the treat market because it is grain free, gluten free, and made in small batches.
“We’re selling it as a product produced by a small company that gives you a healthy alternative that you can trust,” Rexroad said. “The company’s phone number is on every bag, and that number rings to my wife’s cellphone. It is not like it goes to a big switchboard.”
Rexroad said if plans are approved, the company likely would add a couple of employees to assist in the production of the dog treats, which are made from ingredients such as potato flour, whole rice flour, peanut butter, eggs, ground turkey, and even real salmon filets.
“It is a real high-end treat,” Rexroad said. “The ingredients are people-food quality.”
I’ll be honest, this is the point where I became a bit nervous. The last time I wrote an article about a dog treat business — a nonprofit venture by the Lawrence Community Shelter — I ended up being persuaded to eat a dog treat because they “taste a lot like a cookie.” I have no doubt that the dog treat was very high quality, but I will say that dogs are not the best judge of cookies. (Although, I’m sure dogs all over town talk behind my back about how my coat is lacking in sheen.)
Rexroad did not offer me a sample, but if plans are approved, you likely will be able to go to the business and buy some for yourself. In addition to the production and warehousing operations, plans call for the 2,200 square-foot building to also house a pet supplies and grooming retailer. Rexroad said an existing company in town would run that portion of the business.
Rexroad said he’s begun having meetings with the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association and other residents in the area to talk about plans for the building, which several years ago operated as a store that sold used items for home improvement projects.
“We want to be great neighbors in East Lawrence,” Rexroad said. “We want to be part of that neighborhood. It is such an awesome part of town.”
The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission is scheduled to make a recommendation on the special use permit for the business at its July 22 meeting. City commissioners would hear the issue a few weeks later.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is a busy night at City Hall this evening. Commissioners meet at 3 p.m. to go over the recommended 2016 budget from Interim City Manager Diane Stoddard. Then, commissioners have a long list of topics they’ll discuss. Here’s a look at some of the larger ones:
— The Lawrence Community Shelter on Monday made its plea for increased funding from the Douglas County Commission to help the homeless shelter address a shortfall in funding this year. Tonight, the shelter will make its request to the City Commission. It is seeking $200,000 total from the city and the county, and has warned of staffing and service cuts if it does not receive the funding this month. City commissioners are expected to hear the item tonight but not make a final decision on any funding, Mayor Jeremy Farmer told me.
— We’ll learn something about roundabouts and city commissioners this evening. The three commissioners who took office in April will have their first decision to make about a roundabout. The commission is being asked to accept a $600,000 federal grant that would fund the construction of a roundabout at Harvard Road and Wakarusa Drive. The past commission had gotten back on the roundabout bandwagon after construction of the devices had slowed somewhat in recent years. That group approved the construction of the new dual lane roundabout at Wakarusa and Legends/Inverness Drive. At the time, engineers said they likely would recommend one for Harvard and Wakarusa, which has been the site of 18 crashes from 2011 through 2014. We’ll see whether this commission continues to support roundabout projects. This grant will require the city to come up with $60,000 in matching funds.
— In case you have forgotten, the city is searching for a new city manager. That process hasn’t come out of the gates blazing, but rather commissioners have taken their time to find a search firm to help with the process. Tonight, commissioners will consider a $26,200 contract to hire Ralph Andersen and Associates to oversee the city’s search process. According to the contract, the firm expects the process to take about 75 to 90 days. No word yet on other details of the search process. For example, commissioners will need to decide whether they want to host public meetings with two or three finalists for the position. That has become a more common practice with high-profile hires in governmental organizations. I’ve heard some commissioners express interest in that idea, but the commission hasn’t yet committed to the process.
— Property tax breaks for the rest of us. That’s one way to look at a discussion that is expected at City Hall tonight. Commissioners will discuss how to use the Neighborhood Revitalization Act in the future. The act is a method where property owners can get a rebate on a portion of their property taxes, if they make improvements to their properties that cause the value of their properties to increase. For example, I tear down the ramshackle garage on my house, and replace it with something more befitting my scholarly nature, like a library that just happens to have an 85-inch flatscreen television and a chair with a built-in cooler. (For like Shakespeare on PBS and such.) That may cause the value of my house to go up, say $40,000. The Neighborhood Revitalization Act would allow me to receive at least a partial tax rebate on the property taxes I would pay on that $40,000 addition.
But commissioners haven’t used the act in that way. Instead it has been approved to provide a tax rebate for an expansion of The Eldridge Hotel, for an architecture office, for the rehabilitation of an abandoned historic property, apartment projects, improvements in the Warehouse Arts District and several other projects. Plus, commissioners have struggled with the policy that currently is in place. The policy recommends that the standard NRA tax rebate should be for no more than 50 percent of the new taxes. But thus far, every NRA rebate the city has approved has been greater than 50 percent, often checking in at the 85 to 95 percent level.
Commissioners will discuss whether they want to shift gears a bit by declaring a few neighborhoods in need of revitalization, and then letting property owners know that their improvements would be eligible for a partial tax rebate. There also will be discussion about whether the city wants to continue to use the act to provide an incentive to larger commercial projects as well. But all indications are that the three new commissioners — Stuart Boley, Matthew Herbert and Leslie Soden — are going to have a different set of criteria for determining when such projects should receive an incentive. If you are in the business of developing multimillion dollar developments in town, the discussion tonight and in future days will be one to follow.
Commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. tonight at City Hall.
New sushi along 23rd Street, new Chinese along Iowa Street; rumors of KC restaurant chain coming to town; figures show positive Kansas income growth
There are new adventures to be had in Lawrence with chopsticks, and this time I’m almost sure it won’t require a trip to the ear, nose and throat doctor. In other words, there’s news about some new Japanese and Chinese restaurants in the city.
Yeah Sushi has opened in the Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana streets. Yuyuan Jiang is the owner of the restaurant, and he told me he’s been a sushi chef for the past eight years in places such as California, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and New York.
“My sushi style is coming from many different states,” he said.
In fact, Yeah’s menu includes a sushi roll for almost every state. (In fact, it would be dead on, if geographers would quit insisting that we recognize Missouri.) By my count, the menu has 49 different sushi rolls. There are plenty of traditional ones such as the spicy tuna roll, the Philadelphia roll, the Yellowtail scallion roll, the California roll and the rainbow roll.
But there are also some with more local flair. There’s a KU roll, which has salmon, crab meat and avocado, and there is a Lawrence roll, which has crab meat, shrimp, cucumber, tempura flakes and eel sauce. (That sounds about right. Every time I’ve ever met an eel here, he’s been sauced.)
The restaurant also has about a dozen salads — ranging from a house salad to more creative ones like a salmon skin salad or a seaweed salad. There are lots of other things on the menu that I’m probably not the best at explaining. (After all, I was worried about Rudolph when I saw a Christmas roll on the menu.) But my understanding is my colleague Joanna Hlavecek is writing a little something about the restaurant, so keep an eye out for that at Lawrence.com.
I have two other quick updates from the land of Far East cuisine. There’s a new Chinese restaurant called Xi’an Kitchen in the location that used to house the Asian restaurant 8 Flavors. That’s near the intersection of 23rd and Iowa, behind the building that houses the West Coast Saloon. I haven’t yet chatted with the owners of that establishment, but we’ll reach out to them.
And one more note, and this one comes from Lawrence’s Far East, which is 23rd and Harper. The Jin Shan Buffet that is located at the shopping center at the northeast corner of the intersection is closed. But a sign on the restaurant says it will reopen. According to the sign, there was a fire in the kitchen of Jin Shan several weeks ago. The sign wasn’t clear on when the restaurant will reopen, but there was a large Dumpster from a local fire restoration company on site. I’ll let you know if I hear more.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It would take a big pair of chopsticks to tackle a moose, but I’m hearing rumblings that the popular KC-based restaurant Blue Moose Bar and Grill is seriously considering a Lawrence location.
I’ve reached out to the company, but haven’t yet heard back. So this falls into the category of unconfirmed, and you can take it for whatever you think it is worth. But there is definitely talk on the street that the Blue Moose Bar & Grill is working on a deal for a northwest Lawrence location. I’ve heard that the site next to Spin Neapolitan Pizza, which is locating next to the Wal-Mart near Sixth and Wakarusa is a potential site, but again I don’t have confirmation from the company on that.
For those of you not familiar with the Blue Moose, it is not your typical bar and grill food. There are certainly some hamburgers and buffalo chicken and that sort of stuff, but there’s also salmon, pastas, flat bread pizzas, gourmet mac and cheese and other such items. My understanding is the locations also serve brunch.
The restaurant has locations in Prairie Village, Overland Park, Topeka and Lenexa.
Again, I wouldn’t pull the moose antlers out of the closet just yet, but it is a restaurant to keep an eye on. I’ll let you know if I hear more.
• There’s some economic news out that is not bad for the state of Kansas. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has a new report out that says personal income in the state grew faster than it did many other parts of the country, and, to boot, Kansas is a quite a bit cheaper place to live.
The numbers are for 2013, but those are the latest numbers available, so we’ll take what we can get. The federal number crunchers found that personal income — that’s things like wages, rental income, Social Security payments and a host of other things — rose by 1.1 percent in Kansas, after adjusted for inflation. That’s better than the 0.8 percent rise for the U.S. as a whole.
What’s more, Kansas did better than many of the other states in the region in 2013. (Note: This is the growth rate for total Kansas personal income, not per capita personal capita income.) Here’s a look:
— Colorado: up 1.0 percent
— Iowa: up 0.6 percent
— Missouri: up 0.5 percent
— Nebraska: up 2.2 percent
— Oklahoma: up 0.7 percent.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis also does a neat thing where it tries to show how far a dollar goes in each state. It uses an index that is similar to the popular Consumer Price Index to measure how much the price of goods and services are changing. What it found for Kansas is that prices are about 10 percent cheaper here than they are compared with the country as a whole.
Here’s a look at how we compare with other states. The key to understanding these numbers is that 100 is the national average. So a score of 90 would mean we're 10 percent below the national average on prices, while 110 would mean we’re 10 percent above the national average on prices, for example.
— Kansas: 90.8
— Colorado: 102.2
— Iowa: 90.3
— Missouri: 89.2
— Nebraska: 90.5
— Oklahoma: 89.9
The report also lists per capita income amounts for metro areas across the country. I’m still accessing some of that data, and I’ll bring you more later. But the quick version for Lawrence is that per capita personal income stood at $36,187, up from $36,048 in 2012. That’s an increase of 0.3 percent. I’ll get you some comparisons to other communities as I get through the data a bit more.
The Lawrence construction industry may be getting a little more competitive. There’s news of a Eudora-based company expanding through a merger and opening up a new headquarters to accommodate an expected growth in employees.
Leaders with Benchmark construction have confirmed they’ve completed a deal to purchase Ron Fowles Construction Management Services, a Manhattan-based firm that has done significant construction work for Kansas State University and other large projects in the Manhattan area.
In addition, Benchmark also has struck a deal for a new corporate headquarters building in Eudora. The company has purchased the former Carquest Auto Parts building at 10th and Ash streets in Eudora. Tim Bruce, the CEO of the combined companies, said the company currently has its six executive and administrative positions in a small Eudora office along Kansas Highway 10. He said the company needed a larger office space that would allow the company to accommodate the 10 to 15 new executive and administrative employees that he anticipates over the next three to five years.
“It gives us the room we’re going to need for project managers, operations managers, a safety office and other positions,” Bruce said. “It also gives us some good warehouse space.”
Bruce said he sees good growth potential in the area’s construction market, and he thinks Benchmark is well positioned to compete with large Lawrence-based construction firms such as B.A. Green Construction, First Construction and others for commercial building projects such as office buildings, mixed-used buildings, and educational buildings both for school districts and universities.
Bruce said the new company will operate under two names. Benchmark and RF Construction, and will continue to maintain an office in Manhattan. Bruce, however, said the Eudora office will serve as the corporate headquarters for the new entity.
Bruce said Eudora made good sense for the company in part because the community of about 6,000 people is well positioned for companies that are looking to do business in the Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City areas. The town is located right along Kansas Highway 10, and a relatively new interchange on the Kansas Turnpike is just a few minutes north of Eudora.
“It makes for really good transportation access,” said Bruce, who also is a member of the Eudora City Council and a leader in the city’s chamber of commerce.
It will be interesting to watch in the coming years whether Eudora is able to take advantage of the new Kansas Turnpike interchange, which is probably five minutes or so from its downtown. The city has an industrial park on the eastern edge of the city, right along K-10, and the community has significant amounts of undeveloped frontage property along the highway. But it also is just down the road from the new Lawrence Venture Park, which is expected to be the property that area economic development leaders focus on filling for awhile.
• That’s it for today on Town Talk. I’m going to be participating as a “victim” in today’s emergency management exercise that is taking place in the Lied Center parking lot and also at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Rumor has it that a terrible hazardous materials accident may befall me. I’m not sure if that will happen at the exercise or as I finish making breakfast here. Stay on the lookout this weekend for a Lawhorn’s Lawrence for a behind-the-scenes look at what happens when a fake disaster hits the city.
Lawrence construction totals on pace for record year; more details on costs of large apartment project; eco devo leaders confirm details of new manufacturer
It is time to keep our eyes open for a possible Lawrence record in 2015, and it involves the use of hammers and saws, which is usually the type of record that causes my insurance agent to lose his job. But no worries here because the record in question is whether Lawrence will have its best building year in history.
The latest figures from Lawrence City Hall show that city building inspectors have issued permits for $89.3 million worth of projects through the end of April. That puts Lawrence within striking distance of the all-time record of $175.03 million worth of projects built in 2000. (Granted, the 2000 numbers aren’t adjusted for inflation, but for those of you hung up on that, I suggest you spend the rest of this column playing with your pocket protectors.)
It is probably a bit of a long shot that the record will fall in 2015 because two of the larger projects expected this year are already included in the $89 million total — a $45 million permit for the HERE at Kansas apartment project across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium, and an $18.7 million permit for the new multistory apartment and office building under construction at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
We’ll have to see whether there are another $86 million worth of construction projects that materialize in the final eight months of the year. Regardless, it looks like Lawrence is poised to have a building year that is well-above average. To put the numbers in perspective, Lawrence in the first four months of the year had almost as many projects underway as it had for the entire 12 months of 2014. The city issued permits for $99.7 million worth of projects in 2014. For further perspective, look at the downturn Lawrence was in during the depths of the recession. For all of 2009, the city issued permits for only $75 million worth of projects.
Here’s a look at some other facts and figures from the latest building permit report from City Hall:
— The number of single family and duplex units under construction is up slightly in 2015. The city has issued permits for 49 single-family or duplex units thus far in 2014. That’s up from 42 at the same time period last year.
— Apartment construction is back with a bang. The city has issued permits for 351 new units of apartments. The HERE project and the Ninth and New Hampshire project have been major drivers of those numbers.
— April was a busy month for new construction. During the month, city inspectors issued permits for $8 million worth of work. Among the larger projects were $1 million for renovations at the new Peaslee Technical Training Center at 2920 Haskell; $700,000 for the new Chick-fil-A building near 27th and Iowa; $600,000 for a new Ulta Beauty at 27th and Iowa; $540,000 for a new grain storage bin at the Ottawa Co-op at 2001 Moodie Road; and $500,000 for renovations for Port Fonda restaurant, which will be on the ground floor of the new Marriott hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps some of you remember that during the debate over whether the City Commission should approve financial incentives for the HERE at Kansas project, the development was frequently described as a $75 million project. So, perhaps you are confused why the building permit for the project has come in about $30 million less than that.
It did catch my eye, but city officials have provided me an explanation. They said that the $45 million is the estimated cost of building the actual structure. The rest of the costs are for other items related to the development. Britt Crum-Cano, the city's economic development coordinator, said the developer of the project provided these estimates on the other project costs: $420,000 in utility connection fees; $1,000,000 in public improvements that are being paid for by the developer; $7.9 million to acquire the land; $2.7 million in architectural, engineering and legal fees; $2.1 million for fixtures, furnishings and equipment; $4.4 million for equipment to run the automated parking garage; $1.6 million in interest costs; $2.4 million for contingencies; and $6.7 million in other soft costs.
Those soft costs include items such as demolition, asbestos abatement, specialty engineering; renderings, insurance, marketing, travel, developer overhead, loan fees and a host of other items.
I’m not saying any of this was done wrong here. I’ve never given much thought to how the city determines the value of a project for building permit purposes. But I do watch permits fairly closely, and many times the value listed on a building permit is pretty close to the dollar value that is presented to city commissioners when they are considering issues such as incentives and such. The most recent project I’m thinking of is the hotel development at Ninth and New Hampshire. That was frequently discussed as being about a $12 million to $14 million project. In the end, the city issued a building permit for $13.8 million. The county appraiser lists the fair market value of the project in 2015 at about $13 million.
The only real consequence of the value listed on the permit is the value is used to determine the building permit fee due to the city. If another $30 million were added to the permit value, the developer’s building permit fee would have increased by about $30,000.
The bigger question probably relates to what the project ultimately will be valued at by the county appraiser. The City Commission approved an 85 percent, 10-year tax rebate for the project, in part, based on the idea that the project was going to go on the tax rolls somewhere near $75 million. Once the tax rebate period expires, a $75 million building produces a lot of property tax. I’m assuming that the expectation is that the building will go on the tax rolls at $75 million or so, but I’m double checking on that.
• Last week we reported that an Iowa-based company has filed plans to open a foam manufacturing plant along Haskell Avenue. Well, I’ve gotten a few more details about that project.
As we previously reported, EPS Products plans to locate in 60,000 square feet of space in the former E&E Display building at 910 E. 29th St. I had been told that the project likely would include about 20 jobs. Now, an official with the Lawrence chamber of commerce is confirming that information. Brady Pollington, economic development project manager for The Chamber, said at a chamber event this morning that he expects 15 to 20 jobs with an average wage of about $15 per hour.
Pollington also confirmed another piece of information I had heard. The company is coming to Lawrence to be closer to Amarr Garage Door’s Lawrence manufacturing facility. The new EPS facility will manufacture foam that is used as interior insulation for garage doors.
Look for the project to take shape in the next few months.
Plans filed for meat-smoking business in rural Douglas County; large apartment complex near KU tweaks plans; long list of appointments to city boards
Perhaps your barbecue experiments this long, rainy, holiday weekend have left you looking for a new place to buy smoked meats. (As I’ve said multiple times, I didn’t know we used the laundry room that much, and in my defense, I did fully open the window.) Well, plans are in the works for a new Douglas County business to become a regional supplier of smoked meats.
Brian Strecker, a former chef at the now-defunct Pachamamas, has filed plans to open The Burning Barrel on the site of a former Christmas tree farm west of Lecompton. Strecker plans to produce a variety of bacons, hams, sausages and other products that will be sold to restaurants and grocery stores throughout eastern Kansas. Most of the products will be produced from livestock raised right here in the area.
“My main focus is to provide people with a product that is from Kansas, processed in Kansas and that stays in Kansas,” Strecker said.
The idea of farm-to-table is a popular one with the the restaurant industry. Strecker said he has had good response from restaurants thus far. He said The Roost in downtown Lawrence has expressed a strong interest in buying its breakfast meats from The Burning Barrel. Bacon and sausage is expected to be a big seller, but Strecker said the possibilities for products are numerous. He said he’s talking with one restaurant that is interested in a variety of pizza toppings.
Strecker thinks hams will be a big part of the business. He said the large number of smoke and spice combinations offers possibilities for unique hams. He said in addition to traditional hams, he’s been perfecting an Asian-inspired ham that is smoked with green tea leaves and is infused with ginger, soy and Asian-varieties of peppercorns. Other varieties also will be offered.
Strecker plans to use “heritage” breeds of hogs for many of his products. The breeds, such as Durocs, are significantly different from the breeds used by the major pork producers. Strecker said the heritage breeds often produce a darker, more flavorful cut of meat.
Pork products are expected to be the bulk of the company’s offerings, but Strecker said he plans to have some beef products as well.
Strecker’s business plans, however, still need to win approval from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and the Douglas County Commission. Strecker is seeking a conditional use permit for the property at 292 North 2100 Road. Strecker is only seeking approval to process meat at the facility. There will not be any slaughtering of animals at the location. Strecker has a supplier that provides the local meat already slaughtered.
Strecker hopes to have the approval process completed in August, and the business open sometime in September. The business won’t do any retail sales at the location, but Strecker said he does expect to participate in farmers markets, and reach some retail deals with some area grocers. Strecker said he plans to sell to restaurants throughout eastern Kansas and as far west as Wichita.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Plans are changing slightly for the large apartment complex under construction at the southwest corner of 11th and Mississippi streets. The project, known as HERE at Kansas, has submitted new building elevations for the city to approve. According to an analysis by the city’s planning staff, the major change is that about two-thirds of the building becomes about one story shorter. The number of living units in the project — 237 living units — and the number of bedrooms — 624 bedrooms — are not changing as a result of the design. The project also is not changing its number of parking spaces, which is 577. So, I’m not sure if the height of each story is changing, or how the project is able to reduce its height without reducing its unit count.
Other changes noted by planning staff include a reduction in the number of windows in the parking garage portion of the project, replacement of some brick with cement-fiber panels, and minor revisions to windows and doors on the exterior of the project.
Here’s a look at a before and after version of the plans. This is for the west elevation, which is the part of the building that faces Mississippi Street. Click here to see the elevations for the other sides of the building.
• City commissioners at their meeting this evening will make a host of appointments, including a couple of people who are frequent City Hall participants. Former City Commissioner Aron Cromwell is slated to be appointed to the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee, which provides recommendations on tax abatements and other such issues. Melinda Henderson, who was once active in the Progressive Lawrence Campaign and has been a frequent advocate for neighborhood issues around town, is slated to be appointed to the Joint Economic Development Council, which makes recommendations on eco devo matters for both the city and the county.
Mayor Jeremy Farmer also has submitted a list of names for the new Pedestrian-Bicycle Issues Task Force. Those include: Dee Boeck, Carol Bowen, Charlie Bryan, Clint Idol, Marilyn Hull, Mike Kelly, Erin Paden, Bonnie Uffman, Marianne Melling, Patricia Weaver and Adam Weigel.
• Here is perhaps the number of the day: From Jan. 1 to April 30, the city’s police department responded to approximately 750 calls that were “suicide-related or requests to check on an individual’s welfare.” That’s a little more than six per day.
The number is part of a memo city commissioners will be studying as part of a 3 p.m. study session today. Commissioners are holding the first in a series of study sessions related to setting goals for the city. Today they will focus on public safety and mental health issues. As the number above suggests, there is some crossover between the two.
We’ll see how the discussion proceeds, though. There is a growing debate in City Hall about whether the city’s efforts to build a new police headquarters facility should be linked to the community’s efforts to address mental health care.
On the one hand, a complete review of the police department, including how it can be part of the mental health care system, might be helpful in planning how the department should be structured in the future. But on the other hand, advocates for a new police facility say that the facility needs are immediate. It is uncertain how long a complete review of the department may take.
I’ll be at today’s study session and will report back on the discussion that ensues.
New center for business startups opens near Ninth and Iowa; city plans to discuss gigabit Internet again
Figuring out how to help Lawrence residents build new companies is the big talk in local economic development circles these days. Now, there is a new private effort underway to help budding entrepreneurs as well. The Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship has recently opened near Ninth and Iowa streets.
If you remember, we reported back in October that Lawrence school board member Kristie Adair was opening the new venture. Adair, who also is a co-owner of Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband, said construction work has been completed and the center is fully operational.
The center, which is in one of the office buildings west of The Merc, offers both office space and access to a workshop that is stocked with several specialized tools that can help in the creation of prototype products. We’re talking about devices like 3-D printers that meld plastic material together to create new objects and a CNC machine that uses computer-generated designs to cut and shape material into new objects. Plus, there’s traditional woodworking tools, an electronics repair station and other such tools. The center also offers classes in how to use some of the more advanced equipment. (That sounds handy because I can’t get my 3-D printer to work. But I suspect I’m just wearing the glasses wrong.)
On the office side of the business, there are shared worked spaces, a conference room, a lounge, desktop publishing software and, importantly, high-speed gigabit Internet service. That means businesses have the same type of ballyhooed Internet speeds that are being offered by Google Fiber in Kansas City. The center sells memberships to businesses for $50 a month, which gives members 24-hour access to the facility, Adair said.
The center also offers a secure computer server room that companies can rent space in to house their own servers or back-up servers.
Adair is serving as executive director of the new center, which is a private venture owned by Adair and her husband, Joshua Montgomery. Adair said it is important for communities to have centers like this one, if communities are serious about being friendly to new startups.
“We really remember what it is like to start out in a small business,” Adair said. “It was challenging, and one of our bigger challenges was finding space.”
Adair said she’s come to learn that sharing space with other startup businesses also can be beneficial.
“You realize you need space, but you don’t always realize that you need somebody to bounce some ideas off to and talk shop with,” Adair said. “Starting a business can be a lonely venture.”
While the center is geared toward business startups, Adair said membership also is available to people who haven’t yet gotten to that stage, but are interested in learning more about 3-D printers and some of the other “maker space” technology.
The Center for Entrepreneurship isn’t alone in trying to reach out to Lawrence startups or home-based businesses that are looking to make the transition into office space. We’ve previously reported on Lawrence Creates, a nonprofit venture in East Lawrence, that offers some of the same types of services but also does more outreach to the artist community as well. The Cider Gallery in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District also offers shared office space and other business services for startups. Adair, though, said she thought the various business centers all would carve out their unique niches in the marketplace.
“I think people are really starting to see the need in Lawrence for this type of service,” Adair said. “Businesses that build jobs one or two at a time really are the backbone of an economy.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re speaking of high-tech things, there’s an update on Lawrence’s quest to get widespread gigabit Internet service in Lawrence. Perhaps you recall that last week I reported that Eudora was about to jump ahead of Lawrence in its efforts to get the super fast Internet service that is similar to Google Fiber in Kansas City. Eudora is close to signing an agreement with Baldwin City-based RG Fiber that would bring the service to that Douglas County community just east of Lawrence. If the Eudora project proceeds, RG’s leader has said it likely would delay the company’s plans to install the service in parts of Lawrence.
RG Fiber has been interested in installing service in parts of Lawrence for more than a year, but the City Commission has been slow in approving a “fiber policy.” (This one is different from the standard three bowls of Shredded Wheat per morning.) This fiber policy would allow companies like RG to lease unused portions of city-owned fiber optic cable to help complete a network in the city.
Well, perhaps it is all just coincidence, but shortly after Lawrence officials learned that RG was talking with Eudora, city commissioners are now saying they’re ready to pass this fiber policy. Expect it to be on Tuesday’s agenda. New Commissioner Matthew Herbert also forecast that the policy shouldn’t have any problem winning approval.
“I think it is pretty close to just needing a rubber stamp,” Herbert said. “People in the industry are happy with it.”
We’ll see whether Lawrence’s approval of the policy causes RG Fiber to reconsider its timing for entering the Lawrence market.