Posts tagged with Lawrence
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.
Another urgent care medical clinic slated for Sixth Street; big announcements from Free State Festival; items of note from City Commission elections
If turkey-on-pita or that wonderfully catchy Spangles jingle was medicine for your body, you’re still out of luck in Lawrence. But soon you will be able to go see a doctor in the Sixth Street location that formerly housed the Spangles restaurant. (And, you can always ask the doctor to sing the jingle. You never know.)
Plans have been filed at Lawrence City Hall for MedExpress to locate in the former Spangles building at 3420 W. Sixth St. If you remember, the fast-food restaurant closed down in late 2013. MedExpress is a West Virgina-based walk-in health clinic that treats everything from broken bones, cuts and scrapes, colds and flus, and a host of other nonlife-threatening ailments.
According to its website, the walk-in clinics are open seven days a week from 8 a.m to 8 p.m. The company has locations in seven states, but it looks like the Lawrence clinic will be its first in Kansas.
It certainly won’t be the first to start the trend of walk-in health clinics coming to Lawrence. West Lawrence residents, I don’t know what you have been doing — but perhaps we can talk in private later — but doctors certainly have been interested in serving you lately. Just a couple of weeks ago we reported that another walk-in clinic company — XpressWellness Urgent Care — had filed plans to build near the corner of Sixth and Folks Road. That’s just a couple of blocks away from this site. Interestingly, Lawrence developer Doug Compton played a hand in both projects. XpressWellness is going into the Bauer Farm development that Compton is a part of, and the paperwork for MedExpress shows that Compton’s First Management now owns the Spangles building.
No word yet on when MedExpress plans to open. The site will undergo a significant renovation. For some reason, it appears the medical office will not be keeping all the 1950s diner-style neon that exists at the Spangles buildings. Plans call for most of the existing building to be demolished. A new structure that is about 2,000 square feet bigger will be built. All told, the clinic will be about 5,000 square feet.
In other news and notes from around town:
• This news is just in: For those of you who didn’t get enough funk in the recently completed election season, one of the masters of funk will be performing a live concert in Lawrence this summer as part of the Free State Festival. The Lawrence Arts Center announced this morning that George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic will be a headliner of the festival, which runs June 22-28.
Noted comedian Bobcat Goldthwait also will be in town for the festival. He’ll be screening a documentary that he directed about comedian Barry Crimmins. Look for more information about the complete festival lineup and more details about showtimes soon.
• My french fry habits alone put me much closer to Bill Clinton than George Clinton, so you should find it as no surprise that I’m better versed on politics than funk. Even though I suspect there are many of you sick of the political season, we should do a quick wrap-up of some items from last night’s City Commission elections. Here are some things I think we learned:
— It was an odd year for money in Lawrence politics. The top three vote winners in the election were the candidates who raised the least amount of money. Leslie Soden, the top vote-winner, raised just less than $7,000 for the entire campaign, according to the most recent filings. The top fundraiser, Stan Rasmussen, raised just more than $25,000. He finished fifth in the six candidate field. The second-highest fundraiser, Bob Schumm, finished sixth. Couple this with the fact that supporters of the police headquarters sales tax greatly outspent opponents in November but still lost. Perhaps the role of money is changing in local politics. Perhaps social media is making it easier to run grassroots campaigns. Perhaps we just caught voters in a particular mood. Likely, it is a bit of all three.
— Any money that even looks like it may have touched the Koch brothers, Americans for Prosperity or other such conservative causes is poison to the touch in Lawrence. That seems to be the most likely explanation for why Rasmussen fell from second-place in the March primary to fifth place in the general election. Rasmussen had to deal with a controversy in the final week of the campaign as some voters expressed concern about $4,500 in donations that he took — and then later returned — from a prominent southeast Kansas family involved in conservative political causes. Rasmussen tried to explain that the money from the Crossland family came to him because he was a classmate with the elder Crossland in Leadership Kansas, not because the two shared political philosophies. For what it is worth, several people have come forward and said Rasmussen really isn’t a conservative in the ilk of Crossland. But Lawrence voters, it appears, take no chances on that front.
— This may be the last April election we have. One of the items that got a bit of talk in political circles last night is whether the Kansas Legislature will approve a law that would move the city and school board elections to even numbered years in November. County Clerk Jamie Shew told me he thinks the bill has a real chance of approval. City and school elections would still be nonpartisan but they would be on the ballot with partisan races such as governor and presidential races. Now that the campaigning is done, I’m going to look at that bill more, and I’ll report back. The implication could be large though. For one, some members of the City Commission will have to have their terms adjusted, if elections move to even numbered years. The bigger implication, though, may be how it changes the voter mix in Lawrence. Generally, KU students don’t come out to vote in City Commission elections. Generally, they do for presidential elections. If there are City Commission names on the ballot, will they vote in that race as well? It has the potential to be a game-changer.
75th Anniversary of The Duke and 75,000 fans in Lawrence; police officers association endorses three for City Commission
Well, Pilgrim, cinch up your saddle, pull your hat down tight and mosey over to to the popcorn trough. There’s a new excuse for Lawrence residents to watch a John Wayne movie in the coming days. (As a bonus, we also can walk around saying words like pilgrim, sarsaparilla and boy-howdy without people looking at us odd. Why are you still looking at me odd?)
Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of John Wayne coming to Lawrence as part of the world premier of his 1940 motion picture "Dark Command." The movie wasn’t filmed in Lawrence — if you have ever watched it, you’ll get a kick out of the scenery around Lawrence — but the plot was based in Lawrence. The movie is loosely based on Quantrill’s Raid of the city. The villain and John Wayne’s nemesis in the film is a fellow by the name of William Cantrell.
To hear some people tell it, the 1940 event is one of the standout pre-war memories people have of Lawrence. A Journal-World staff writer reminisced on the event in a 1998 Journal-World article. It was estimated that more than 75,000 people turned out in downtown Lawrence for the festivities surrounding the world premiere. There was a parade that was estimated to be “more than two miles long as hundreds of local horse fanciers and motorcade fans” joined in the festivities. Both John Wayne and Gene Autry were in town for the event. Wayne was the star of the film. Autry was not in the film but was in town for the event. Roy Rogers, however, was in the movie, although he did not sing in the film. (Cantrell surely would have been brought to justice earlier if there had been more song and dance.)
The Eldridge Hotel hosted many of the film’s stars and had banners draped all over it, including one that read “Lawrence Welcomes Hollywood.”
It is an interesting piece of Lawrence history, and you can learn more about it at the Watkins Museum of History. The museum at 11th and Massachusetts will unveil an exhibit about the movie and the world premier event on April 18. However, the museum has a small display up now. On April 18, the museum will host three screenings of "Dark Command" at 10:30, 12:30 and 2:30.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The Lawrence City Commission race is really in the homestretch now, which means more groups and organizations are announcing their endorsement of candidates. The latest group is the Lawrence Police Officers Association Political Action Committee. It has endorsed candidates Stan Rasmussen, Matthew Herbert and Terry Riordan. That is the same trio of candidates that recently won the endorsement of the Lawrence Board of Realtors. It is always unclear how much these endorsements help a candidate, but two of these three certainly were left with some work to do after March’s primary election. Riordan finished fourth in the primary and Herbert finished fifth. Only the top three vote winners in the General Election will win a seat on the City Commission.
The General Election is on Tuesday.
• I’m getting lots of questions these days about the election and also a lot of questions about the future of City Manager David Corliss. As you may remember, we reported a couple of weeks ago, Corliss is a finalist for the town manager job in Castle Rock, Colo. That’s still the case. The town of about 50,000 people outside of Denver has not yet made an announcement. But I’m expecting one soon. I suspect we’ll have an answer on Corliss’ future before we have an answer on who the next city commissioners will be. I’ve received no definitive word on what will happen in Castle Rock, but just reading the tea leaves around City Hall, I think city commissioners are preparing as if they’ll soon be searching for a new city manager. But perhaps we’ll all be surprised. It should become much clearer soon.
The auto business in Lawrence is booming, and its latest expansion is set for 23rd Street and Haskell Avenue. Lawrence-based Auto Exchange has filed plans to open a new dealership at the intersection.
Auto Exchange has reached a deal to take over the northwest corner of the intersection, the spot that previously housed the Hertz rental car business. Matt Heidrich, managing partner for the business, said the company plans to keep its existing location at 33rd and Iowa streets open as well. He hopes to have the new location at 23rd and Haskell open in 60 to 90 days.
“Our No. 1 problem has been keeping enough inventory,” Heidrich said. “The additional location will allow us to really expand our inventory.”
The deal represents a return to 23rd Street for Auto Exchange. It previously operated at the location down the street that now houses the Lawrence Kia dealership. The new location will be significantly smaller than that spot, but Heidrich said smaller locations are a part of Auto Exchange’s business strategy. The smaller locations allow for significantly lower overhead costs, he said.
“We figured out that bigger isn’t always better,” Heidrich said.
The strategy also works well with the company’s online strategy. Heidrich said the Internet has caused major changes in the dealership industry. He said about 90 percent of his dealership’s business is done online.
“The Internet has increased our business exponentially” he said.
Look for some construction to occur at the 23rd and Haskell site. Plans call for a remodel of the existing building, and the addition of a car wash bay to the site.
In case you are wondering about Hertz, it has moved to 845 Iowa St. It is now located inside The Selection auto dealership.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I know when I go to buy a new car, I always check my bank account first (assuming my wife has told me which bank the money’s at.) Well, there’s a new report out that shows how Kansans did in 2014 when it comes to incomes.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has released its per capita income numbers for each state in 2014. It wasn’t a great year for Kansas. Per capita income grew in the state — as it did every state — but Kansas’ growth rate was in the bottom quintile. (‘Quintile’ is left over from the days when I had enough money to buy a fancy word dictionary. Otherwise, I would just say the bottom fifth.)
Kansas’ per capita income grew by 2.9 percent in 2014. That’s compared to the national average of 3.9 percent. But a lot of Kansas’ neighbors are keeping us company in terms of lower-than-average income growth. The report notes that states that depend a lot on agriculture suffered some in 2014, especially if they didn’t have large amounts of oil and gas revenues to help their economies.
Here’s a look at the per capita incomes and growth rates for the seven states that make up the Plains Region:
— Iowa: $45,115, up 1.3 percent
— Kansas: $45,546, up 2.9 percent
— Minnesota: $48,711, up 3.2 percent
— Missouri: $41,613, up 2.7 percent
— Nebraska: $47,073, up 0.5 percent
— North Dakota: $54,951, up 5.6 percent
— South Dakota: $46,345, up 1.7 percent
As for our two neighboring states that aren’t included in that list: Colorado has per capita income of $48,730, which grew by 5.6 percent in 2014; Oklahoma checks in at $43,138, and grew at 3.8 percent last year.
In case you are wondering, the fastest growing incomes were: 1. Alaska; 2. Oregon; 3. Colorado; 4. North Dakota; 5. Texas.
In case you missed Wednesday's post: Work planned for Iowa Street this summer; roundabout for Bob Billings?
Compton purchases former Borders Bookstore site; Incumbents, Rasmussen leading the pack in City Commission fundraising
Dreams of a downtown grocery store in the former Borders bookstore building at Seventh and New Hampshire appear to be much like the milk in my refrigerator: expired. Lawrence businessman Doug Compton has signed a deal to purchase the building, and he has no plans to move his proposed downtown grocery from 11th and Massachusetts to the site.
Compton confirmed to me that he has a contract to take over ownership of the building in late May. He said he didn’t purchase the building to squelch the plans of a grassroots organization that has been working to bring a grocer into the 20,000 square foot space. But, that will be the end result.
“I will dictate what goes in there,” Compton said.
Compton said he purchased the building because it makes sense for him to own it given the amount of investment he is making along New Hampshire Street. Compton is the developer behind both the multistory apartment/office building at the southwest corner of Ninth and New Hampshire and the hotel/retail building at the southeast corner of the intersection. His company is beginning work this week on another multistory apartment/office building at the northeast corner of the intersection. He also has filed plans to build an apartment project atop the existing Pachamamas building at Eighth and New Hampshire.
Compton said he doesn’t have any particular tenant lined up to take the Borders space.
“I’m not afraid to own it and lease it,” Compton said. “It won’t sit empty that long. I’ll find a tenant for it. I think interest is going to get stronger in downtown.”
The building comes with its own private parking lot, a rarity in downtown. Compton said he thinks the building has good potential as a retail site, but said he’ll also explore the idea of converting it over to an office building.
“I have heard there was an office tenant looking for 6,000 to 7,000 square feet of space in downtown recently,” Compton said. “That would be a good place for something like that because it is hard to find downtown office space with parking right outside the door.”
Compton also said he may need the building to relocate some tenants from other projects that he would be constructing in downtown.
We’ll have to wait and see who eventually ends up in the Borders building, but there is an even more interesting question emerging: Will the grassroots supporters of a downtown grocery store now get behind the idea of a grocery store at 11th and Massachusetts? Some of the group members — led by City Commission candidate David Crawford — have opposed the plan because they thought the Borders site would be a quicker and better solution. The two sites are pretty close to each other — about a minute by car and just a few minutes by foot — so that likely isn’t the issue.
Compton’s plans call for the grocery store — which would be run by the Lawrence-based Checkers company — to be the anchor tenant for a seven-story building that would also house offices and apartments. The project also would include a parking garage to serve the development.
There is still a big question about whether historic preservationists will object to a seven-story building being constructed across the street from the historic Douglas County Courthouse and the Watkins Museum of History. The project will have to work through that, and the community will have to decide whether a tall building detracts from the character of an adjacent historic building. I know that is a common concern with historic preservationists, but I’m not sure it is with the common man. We’re poised to find out.
The idea of a downtown grocery store has been a rallying cry for many groups for many years. When Lawrence often can’t agree on much of anything, the idea that downtown needs a grocery store has been the one thing that brought us together like a bag of Doritos in front of the television set. It will be interesting to see if the downtown grocery crowd now fully throws its support behind the 11th and Massachusetts plan.
Who knows if that will happen, though? I swear each morning that I’m going to stand up to my wife and tell her that buying milk on its expiration date isn’t worth the nickel we save. Yet, here I am, chewing my milk.
In other news and notes from around town:
• One area where you often don’t find a thrifty nickel is in the world of campaign finance. Even in the world of Lawrence City Commission politics, candidates will spend thousands of dollars to win a seat on the commission. Many times — although not always — they are spending the money of campaign contributors. It usually is interesting to see how much money candidates have raised, and where it is coming from.
The latest campaign reports have been filed, and they do tell a story. There has been speculation that this may be a rough year for incumbents, but thus far that hasn’t been the case in the world of fundraising. Incumbent Bob Schumm is the leader of the pack in the most recent campaign finance reporting period. Terry Riordan, the other incumbent seeking re-election, came in third. In between the two is Stan Rasmussen, who was the leader in the previous reporting period and has raised more than $19,000 since late 2014.
These latest reports measure how much candidates have raised from Jan. 1 through Feb. 19. Here’s a look at the entire field:
— Schumm, a city commissioner and retired restaurant owner, raised $14,155 during the time period. The contributions came from 87 individuals or companies, including a $500 donation from himself.
— Rasmussen, an attorney for the U.S. Army, raised $10,975 during the time period. The contributions came from 85 individuals or companies, including a $300 donation from the PAC Lawrence United. In case you have forgotten, Lawrence United is the political action committee that became active in City Commission elections two years ago, and supports a growth-oriented agenda for the city. During the last election, the PAC — in addition to contributing directly to candidates — did a significant amount of advertising supporting candidates as well.
— Riordan, a city commissioner and Lawrence pediatrician, raised $8,665 during the time period. The contributions came from 67 individuals or businesses, including a $600 from himself.
— Mike Anderson, a local television talk show host, raised $5,430 during the time period. The contributions came from nine individuals, including $2,500 from himself.
— Matthew Herbert, a Lawrence High teacher, raised $3,795 during the time period. The contributions came from 51 individuals and businesses. Herbert also had raised $3,030 during the previous reporting period, which ran from March 21 to December 31.
— Stuart Boley, a retired IRS auditor, raised $3,430 during the time period. The contributions came from 16 individuals, including a $300 contribution from the political action committee of the Plumbers & Pipefitters union. Boley also raised $1,600 during the previous reporting period.
— Leslie Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet sitting company, raised $2,144 during the time period. The contributions came from 17 individuals plus an unitemized number of contributors who gave less than $50 apiece.
— Kristie Adair, a Lawrence school board member and co-owner of Wicked Broadband, raised $1,655 from 22 individuals. Adair also raised $5,050 during the previous reporting period.
— David Crawford, a retired instructor for the boilermakers union, raised $1,250 during the time period from 19 individuals, including $300 from himself.
— Cori Viola, a KU law student, raised $1,217 from nine individuals plus an unitemized number of contributors who gave less than $50 apiece.
— Rob Sands, a full-time officer in the Kansas National Guard, raised $1,035 from three individuals, including $500 from himself.
Campaign finance reports from candidates Greg Robinson, Gary Williams and Justin Priest had not yet been received at the County Clerk’s office as of this morning.
You can see all the reports and the lists of who is contributing money to each candidate here.
When it comes to numbers and the South Lawrence Trafficway, we can all make jokes about the number of years it has taken to complete, or the number of arguments it has sparked. But when city, county and school board officials got briefed on the project Tuesday, one number was nothing to laugh about: The number of fatalities on the western leg of the SLT is about 55 percent higher than the average for similar Kansas roads.
From 2009 to 2013, there have been three fatalities on the SLT, which runs from Iowa Street to the Kansas Turnpike on the western edge of Lawrence. (Hopefully you’ve noticed the other half of the project, from Iowa Street to Kansas Highway 10 on the eastern edge of Lawrence, is under construction.) If you go back to 2000, the number of fatality accidents on the SLT grows to nine.
Engineers said one of the reasons for the higher-than-average fatality rate is that the road is two lanes instead of four. Another is because the road has some dangerous at-grade intersections, including one at Kasold Drive and another at 27th and Wakarusa. That one is particularly busy as users of the adjacent sports complex enter and leave the facility. That intersection was the site of a fatality when a motorist struck a bicyclist in July 2013.
Eliminating those at-grade intersections and expanding the road from two lanes to four lanes are major goals of the Kansas Department of Transportation. The department has a study underway that aims to create a concept plan for adding two lanes to the western portion of the SLT; the eastern portion is being built with four lanes. The $1.5 million KDOT study was funded before the state’s fiscal crisis really took hold, so KDOT leaders are optimistic the study will be completed. Finding money to design and then build whatever concept the study comes up with is another issue. There is no funding in future budgets to build the expansion, and it's tough to say when that may change, given that the current “concept plan” at the Statehouse involves shaking couch cushions for loose change.
The public should keep its eyes open for a public meeting in late March or early April where KDOT starts revealing ideas for how it could expand the road to four-lanes. Of particular interest to the development community and motorists will be whether KDOT proposes any additional interchanges on the western portion of the SLT.
The idea of an interchange at Kasold seems pretty remote based on comments from engineers on Tuesday. An interchange near the city’s ball fields near Wakarusa and 27th seems more feasible. Engineers also indicated that they might want to make significant changes to the interchange where the SLT connects to the Kansas Turnpike, commonly called the Lecompton interchange.
Tuesday’s meeting also produced a host of other facts and figures about the SLT project, so here’s a look at a few:
— Get ready for a lot more traffic once the eastern leg of the trafficway opens in the fall of 2016. The western leg of the SLT currently carries about 6,000 to 12,000 cars per day. When the eastern leg of the trafficway opens, those numbers are expected to grow fairly immediately to 15,000 to 20,000 vehicles per day.
— Here’s one reason engineers want to make the western portion of the SLT four lanes: Today it takes about 8 minutes to drive from Iowa Street to the Lecompton interchange on the western end of the road. In 2040, if the road remains two lanes, engineers estimate it will take 28 minutes to make the same trip. By 2040, the road is expected to have about 29,000 vehicles per day.
— Construction is well underway on the Bob Billings Parkway and SLT interchange. Steve Baalman, area engineer for KDOT, said the interchange is expected to be completed by November. Once completed, that will be an area to keep an eye on. That’s the place where the city’s growth probably will first truly jump the trafficway, at least when it comes to large amounts of residential development. How quickly that jump happens will be the big question. Another big question will be how quickly retail develops around the interchange. The city already has approved some retail zoning on the eastern side of the SLT.
— Lots of work has been happening on the eastern leg of the SLT. In terms of dollars spent, about 60 percent of the project is complete. Thus far, contractors only have used 40 percent of their allotted contract days.
— Twenty-four bridges have to be built as part of the project. Work is underway on all but three of them.
— If you remember, the SLT project also includes a project to build a new 31st Street that will run from Haskell Avenue to O’Connell Road. That road is basically 95 percent completed, Baalman said. But it isn’t opened to traffic because the connection to 31st Street east of Haskell can’t yet be made. Baalman said he expects 31st Street to open to traffic before the entire trafficway opens in fall 2016, but he said he can’t estimate yet when that opening will be.
Compton plans to build five-story apartment building at Pachamamas site downtown; grocery project moving along; West Lawrence RadioShack store to close
Get ready for another multistory apartment project in downtown Lawrence. Local businessman Doug Compton has confirmed he has a deal to convert the Pachamamas restaurant building at Eighth and New Hampshire into a five-story building that will house about 60 apartments.
As we previously reported, the owner of Pachamamas had put the building on the market and plans to shut the restaurant down after Valentine’s Day (which, sweet mother of Holy Roses and Overextended Bank Accounts, is Saturday.) Compton told me he has signed a contract to purchase the building, and expects to close on the deal by mid-May.
But don’t look for the building to get torn down. Instead, look for four additional stories to be built atop the existing structure. The building used to be an armory and was built to a heavy-duty standard. My understanding is the building was constructed to allow a helicopter to land on the roof, and Compton said he has photos of tanks parked on the roof. (Don’t look at me, I wasn’t driving.)
Engineers have attested that with just a few modifications the building can easily support another four stories. Compton said that is appealing because it could put the project on a fast track. He said he plans to have the project under construction this summer. That would mean Compton would have two multistory apartment buildings under construction on New Hampshire Street at the same time.
He said work is expected to begin any day on a seven-story apartment and office building at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets, on the site where Black Hills Energy previously had its offices. The project, which was approved by city commissioners last year, is expected to add about 115 apartment units to downtown.
The current proposal for the Pachamamas site would add 56 new apartments, with most being one- and two-bedroom units, Compton said. But unlike the project at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire, the Pachamamas project won’t include an underground parking garage. Downtown zoning allows projects to be constructed without providing off-street parking. Compton said he is not planning to build a parking garage as part of the project. He said by not spending millions on a parking garage, he expects that will allow for lower rental rates than what he has been able to offer at his other downtown projects.
“We’re trying to bring this in at a different price point,” Compton said.
The project still needs to win approval from Lawrence City Hall. It will face hearings at the city’s Historic Resources Commission and also may need City Commission approval, especially if the project requests any financial incentives. Compton didn’t say whether the project would seek any incentives.
If the project moves forward it will be the third major apartment project Compton had undertaken on New Hampshire Street since 2011. He started with the 901 Building at the southwest corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. When the Pachamamas site is completed, Compton’s projects will have added a little more than 225 apartments in essentially a one-block stretch of New Hampshire Street. Compton also was the lead developer on the multistory building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire that houses a Marriott hotel.
“We feel like we’re really close to changing the whole dynamics of New Hampshire Street,” Compton said.
As for Pachamamas, it appears the fine-dining establishment is in its final days. UPDATE: I got in touch with Ken Baker, chef and owner of the establishment, and he said the restaurant will be open through Valentine's Day, but that will be the last night of business for the establishment.
Baker said he doesn't have any other restaurant ventures planned at the moment, but said he wouldn't rule it out for the future.
"There has just been a crazy outpouring of emotion from clientele and staff over the last several weeks," Baker said. "It has been a wild ride, and a big part of me will miss it. But I think there is more on the horizon."
Compton said he did not purchase any part of the restaurant business. He said the ground floor of the building will be used for a restaurant or retail use, but he said he did not have a tenant in place.
“If somebody wants to lease the space and open that type of restaurant again, I’m happy to do it,” Compton said. “I don’t have anything lined up for it yet.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• Compton said that plans to bring a grocery store to the corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets are progressing well. As we previously reported, owners of the Lawrence-based Checkers grocery store want to open a grocery as part of a multistory building Compton hopes to build at the site of the Allen Press property in downtown.
Compton said his group has been tweaking a few aspects of the design and parking plans for the project after having further meetings with officials from Associated Grocers, the wholesale provider for the grocery store.
“Everything is still moving along,” Compton said.
That project, which would be a seven-story building that would include office and apartment uses, must still win several approvals at City Hall.
A group of residents, led by City Commission candidate David Crawford, continue to lobby to have a grocery store project proceed at the former Borders bookstore site at Seventh and New Hampshire streets. My understanding is the group continues to be in discussions with the Michigan-based owners of the building. The owners of Checkers had tried to strike a deal for that site but couldn’t come to terms with the owners. I’m not sure what the group of citizens has in mind — whether it is lobbying city commissioners to provide some incentives to make the site more palatable to Checkers or whether it is working to bring in a different grocery store company.
If it is incentives, it will be interesting to see how commissioners choose between the two sites, which in the grand scheme of things are relatively close to each other. I haven’t timed it officially, but via car, the two sites are probably within 60 to 90 seconds of each other. On foot, they are within a few minutes of each other.
• If you use your Tandy 1000 computer or other cutting-edge device to follow my Twitter feed — @clawhorn_ljw — you already know that we reported yesterday evening that the RadioShack store at Sixth and Kasold is slated to soon close.
The RadioShack chain on Thursday filed for bankruptcy protection, and on Monday a list of store closings was presented to the court. The store at the shopping center at Sixth and Kasold is included on the list, but the store at The Malls shopping center at 23rd and Louisiana is not on the list. But look for changes there as well. National media outlets are reporting that any RadioShack store that isn’t closed will be put up for sale. Some reports say that Sprint will take over about 1,750 of the stores, and the locations will carry Sprint and RadioShack products.
As for the store at Sixth and Kasold, an employee there said she wasn’t authorized to speak to the media. But it looks like going-out-of-business sales soon will start at all the locations that are closing. The company has said discounts will begin at 50 percent off.
The company plans to close about 1,700 stores, in addition to several stores that already have been shuttered. As we previously reported, that included the Lawrence store on south Iowa Street, which closed several weeks ago. The chain had about 4,000 stores.
Chamber CEO talks VenturePark prospects, other projects; questions raised about arts corridor application ahead of commission vote
Lawrence is in the running to land a large manufacturer that would employ an estimated 125 people over the next five years, and would occupy about 120 acres of property at the former Farmland Industries site that the city has converted into a business park.
I’ve been telling you for a couple of months now that economic development leaders have said they have a strong prospect for the former Farmland site, which is now called Lawrence VenturePark. But at a meeting this morning, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce President Larry McElwain gave the most details yet about the prospect.
McElwain didn’t provide the name of the company or a specific industry, but McElwain said the bulk of the jobs would be manufacturing in nature. He said the company would look to make a capital investment of about $20 million over five years.
“This is a really exciting company that is looking at us right now,” McElwain said.
McElwain, speaking at an economic development update breakfast, didn’t say when we will know if the company has chosen Lawrence for its new home. But in conversations I have had with other people knowledgeable about the situation, the current talks have been described as negotiations. Now, whether the company is in exclusive negotiations with Lawrence or also is negotiating with other communities, I don’t know.
I would assume the negotiations involve an incentive package to bring the company here, but I don’t know that for a fact. It has been assumed for quite a while that once the city developed VenturePark, it would become more aggressive in putting together packages to lure companies to the site. Other communities in similar situations have offered free or discounted land to companies that will produce quality jobs. We’ll see what is on the horizon here, but it sounds like economic development officials are still very much in the thick of what could be a significant deal. At 125 jobs, that would be one of the larger new employers to come to town in the last decade or so. A 120-acre site also would be a big one by Lawrence standards. That project would consume about a third of the available industrial property the city has at VenturePark.
McElwain provided updates on a few other projects as well. They include:
— An animal health company that wants to initially locate 11 jobs in the Kansas City area. Over five years, it could provide 55 jobs, with most of the positions being technical or managerial in nature and offering “very high salaries,” McElwain said. The company currently is considering the Bioscience & Technology Business Center on Kansas University’s West Campus, and also is looking at locations in Kansas City.
— An animal health company that is looking for a location to establish its North American headquarters. Initially, the company likely would add 1 to 2 positions, but would add more depending on how its business grows in North America. McElwain said economic development leaders are fielding a large number of inquiries from animal health companies as Kansas City’s reputation as a leader in that industry continues to grow.
“It is amazing the potential for clustering in that industry,” McElwain said. “The University of Kansas is a huge magnet for this, especially the School of Pharmacy.”
— Three local companies currently are considering expansion projects that could in total add more than 100 jobs over the next several years. McElwain said one of the companies is looking at sites in the Kansas City area. He said the companies in question are a mix of manufacturing and technology companies.
In other news and notes from around town:
• A couple of weeks ago, we reported how some East Lawrence residents expressed concern that the Lawrence Arts Center was declining to make public the application the agency submitted to win a $500,000 grant for a project to remake Ninth Street into a unique arts corridor.
Well, as city commissioners prepare to take a vote on the project tonight, the Arts Center has released a redacted version of the full application. It appears some of the new information released has created more questions for some East Lawrence residents who are trying to get a better understanding of the project in their neighborhood.
The application states in multiple places that the Kansas City architecture firm el dorado inc. would serve as the lead designer on the project. That’s despite the fact that el dorado inc. had not been selected yet by the city to serve as the lead designer on the project. In fact, the vote that is set to take place tonight is to authorize city staff to begin negotiating a contract with el dorado. The city is recommending el dorado receive the contract because a city-appointed committee selected it from six design teams that had submitted proposals.
The grant application was not made available to the city-appointed committee reviewing the potential design firms. At least one member of the city-appointed committee is now saying he thinks the application creates the perception that Arts Center officials wanted el dorado to lead the project all along.
Dave Loewenstein, a longtime East Lawrence resident and artist, said too many residents already have a perception that some city projects have involved “back room deals.” Loewenstein, who currently is out of town on a project, said he hopes commissioners will be convinced tonight to delay the project.
“I feel our city commissioners must postpone their vote on selecting a firm for this project until we have an opportunity to look further into how and why the city went forward with a competitive RFQ process even though a design firm had already been explicitly named as a project leader,” Loewenstein said in an e-mail.
Susan Tate, the director of the Lawrence Arts Center, said the application wasn’t meant to convey that el dorado inc. had been selected as the lead designer for the project. Instead, the name was meant as an example of the type of firm that would be leading the project. But nowhere in the application does it state that the decision on the design team was still pending.
Tate said it is common practice for arts organizations to list specific artists or designers as part of its grant application. In hindsight, Tate said she wishes she would have written the grant in a way to make it clear that el dorado was just an example of the caliber of company that would be hired for the project.
In addition, Tate seemingly misspoke when she was interviewed by the Journal-World about the subject in early November. At that time she said she had provided the City Commission and the public with a “word-for-word” version of the portion of the grant application that described the project. But upon further review, the document provided to the City Commission did have a slight change in wording. It removed any mention of el dorado inc. and instead simply said “ArtPlace will fund a professional Urban Planner to lead Creative Team . . .” The application that was actually submitted to the ArtPlace grant funders said “ArtPlace will fund el dorado architects to lead Creative Team . . .”
Tate said she didn’t intend to misspeak, and said the mention of el dorado was removed from the document released to the public because it would have been difficult to conduct a competitive request for proposals if the description of the project included a specific design firm. She said city officials were not aware that the ArtPlace grant application listed el dorado as the lead designer.
Tate expressed confidence that all six companies that applied for the city contract were given a fair chance at winning the proposal, and she said he entered the process with an open mind about who should be selected.
We’ll see what commissioners do with the issue tonight when they meet at 6:35 p.m. It is an unusual issue. Folks in the nonprofit world note that grant applications usually aren’t made public. But several people have noted this may be a different case because the $500,000 grant is only a small portion of what is needed to convert Ninth Street into a unique arts corridor. The city also will need to budget about $3 million worth of improvements to the street.
Green energy company to locate headquarters on 23rd Street; a Mangino yard sign; possible changes to how city deals with downtown races
Expect one stretch of 23rd Street to become a little greener. Don’t worry, Lawrence construction crews aren’t changing from orange cones to green ones. Instead, a growing green energy company is setting up its headquarters in a 23rd Street building and plans to use the prominent site to show off its solar and wind technology.
Lawrence-based Good Energy Solutions has signed a deal to locate in the former Diamond Cabinetry building at 641 E. 22nd St. Even though the business has a 22nd Street address, it basically has 23rd Street frontage. It is the building just east of the 23rd Street bridge that was recently rebuilt.
The company plans to put solar panels and solar canopies on the building, have a prominently displayed, solar-powered electric car charging station, and a residential scale wind turbine on the site, company officials told me.
But the big reason for the move was that the company was running out of space in its current location in the 2100 block of Carolina Street. In the last year, the company has grown to 12 full-time employees, up from four a year ago. The company’s revenues have quadrupled in the last year, said David Thiel, the company’s office manager.
Thiel said the price of solar panels have dropped significantly, which combined with some tax credits has made solar energy a feasible option for many residences. He said about 60 percent of the company’s sales now are on the residential side of the equation. He said some of the company’s customers are people who have had their eye on the solar movement for decades.
“It seems like people of a certain age finally have the money to purchase solar, and they are doing it now,” Thiel said.
The company also does wind energy projects and recently has expanded into the LED lighting business.
The company plans to move into its new offices in the coming days, and look for some of the improvements on the site in the coming weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is campaign season, and yard signs are thicker than the glazed icing on my breakfast this morning. It is easy to become confused with all of them, which is why I almost threw my support for governor to former KU football coach Mark Mangino. You can’t blame me. He does have a yard sign. I was driving on 19th Street the other day and saw a Mangino yard sign, and made a point to go back and take another look at it. You can see it below, but it basically is lobbying for Mangino to be re-installed as the head coach at KU, now that the position is open again.
I have no insight or particular opinion about that. I’ll leave that to the sports guys. But the sign idea, I thought was interesting. The city has sign codes, but the country also has a First Amendment that lets you express your opinion in a variety of ways. Maybe the sign idea will catch on with other important issues as well. World peace, social justice, the creation of an all-you-can-eat country buffet in Lawrence.
As for the Mangino sign, I don’t know if it is an actual movement. I’ve only seen the one sign. But maybe there are more I just haven’t seen them. (I think I could probably get several hundred signs up for the all-you-can eat country buffet, by the way, and probably even sponsorship from a cholesterol drug firm.) Where was this sign, you ask? Well, I’ll give you a hint: It wasn’t in Lew Perkins’ yard. Instead it was in front of Silverback, a Lawrence business that organizes runs and other events across the country. It sets up a lot of the Color Runs around the country.
• Silverback and companies like it may have other issues than the KU football coaching search to keep an eye on. Lawrence city commissioners may have a debate about how they regulate the multitude of 5K races and such that occur in downtown Lawrence and across the city.
Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday approved a route and necessary permits for the upcoming Kansas Half Marathon, which will benefit Lawrence-based Health Care Access. Commissioners also agreed to donate the services of the Lawrence police and fire departments to help staff the event. That is expected to come at a cost of about $8,200.
It is fairly common for the city to donate those services if the event is a fundraiser for a charity. But City Commissioner Bob Schumm said he wants to have a broader discussion about that policy. He said he’s heard from several residents who have concerns that some of the races that are promoted as nonprofit events have a large profit component.
Health Care Access officials said that is not the case with their event. The race is expected to raise more than $35,000 in funding for the organization that provides health care to uninsured or under-insured. That’s more than half the expected $60,000 in entry fees the event is expected to generate. The difference between the $60,000 and the $35,000 is the expenses needed to put on the event, which is expected to draw up to 1,300 runners. Part of those expenses is paying the for-profit company Silverback to manage the course. That includes providing people to help control traffic along the course, mark the course, and do the other things required to have a safe event.
Health Care Access officials told city commissioners that it wouldn’t be possible for their small staff to put on the race without the help of a for-profit company like Silverback. City commissioners said they understand the need for professional assistance, but Schumm said he wants to ensure that races that are promoted as non-profit fundraisers really do return a substantial portion of all revenues to the nonprofit agency. He said that appears to be the case with Health Care Access’ event, and he voted in favor of the necessary permits for the event.
But he said he also wants commissioners to consider policy that would require any race seeking the city’s donation of services to provide an income statement to the city showing the total amount of revenue raised by the event, and the total amount of money the charity will received. Commissioners took no action on that request, but agreed to look at the issue near the end of the year when the city compiles a report on how much it has donated to these various races.
I’ll also be interested to see if that discussion sparks another discussion on whether the city will try to steer future events out of downtown and onto the extensive trail system that exists at Rock Chalk Park. The trail system would not require city police officers and others to provide traffic control. But I know many race organizers like having the events in downtown Lawrence because of the atmosphere it provides. Some businesses like it too, but there are several businesses who express concern that the street closures that come with the races hurt their normal weekend business.
City collects 50 tons of recycling on first day of new program; update on Sixth and Iowa; Lawrence’s impressive job numbers
Lawrence’s new curbside recycling program is off and running, and city officials are pleased with the first day’s haul. City crews collected 50 tons of material to be recycled on Tuesday, which was the first day of operations. (Yes, upon hearing that number I was nervous that my wife had somehow recycled my collection of beer cans and pizza boxes from KU’s magical championship run in 2008. But fear not, it is still there, and I’ve now put a wheel lock on the semi trailer in the back yard.)
Lawrence Public Works Director Chuck Soules said the Day 1 operations went well.
“The crews did a great job,” Soules said. “And that is 50 tons of trash that will not be going to the landfill.”
Soules said crews are asking residents for a bit of help, however, when it comes to setting out their blue recycling carts. The city is asking residents to place their recycling cart at least two feet away from their green trash carts. In many neighborhoods, the city uses automated trucks that use a robotic arm to pick up the containers. If the containers are too close together, the arm cannot grasp the container.
The city hasn’t touted a lot of numbers about how much material they expect to collect as part of the program. But when the city was designing the program last year, it used a working number of 5,000 tons per year, according to some old memos I dug up. (I keep the memos in a separate semi-trailer.) If the 50 tons per day rate continues — that’s a big if because we’ve only seen one day’s worth of data — the city would more than double that 5,000 ton projection.
It is possible that Lawrence residents may end up recycling more than 50 tons per day. After all, the city takes about 60,000 tons of trash to the landfill in a year. In fact, if the city wants to meet one of its goals, it may need to recycle more than 50 tons a day. City commissioners have adopted a goal of having a 50 percent recycling rate by the year 2020.
Figuring out how much we need to recycle at the curb to reach that total can be tricky because we’re not just talking about trash when we are talking about recycling. The tons and tons of material the city collects through its yard waste program also are counted toward the city’s recycling rate.
Bottomline, I’ve taken my shoes off and I still can’t do the math on how much we need to recycle to meet that 50 percent recycling goal. But what little bit of arithmetic I did do on the subject indicates such a a rate is in the realm of possibility. The city in 2010 estimated it had a recycling rate of 38 percent, which was above the national average of about 34 percent. That was without a citywide, curbside recycling program. A lot of the recycling was the yard waste, and to be fair, there were some questions of whether the city’s method for estimating yard waste collections inflated the totals.
Regardless, it will be interesting to watch the numbers in the months that follow. We should have a good idea of just how much the city is recycling, and whether we can meet our goal of becoming one of the more recycling-friendly communities in the country.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The end is in sight for the road construction project at Sixth and Iowa streets. But motorists may want to avoid the intersection this weekend while crews do some paving work at the site.
On Friday evening, crews will begin milling the intersection, and that is going to create a major traffic issue. Crews will have to close Iowa Street where it connects to Sixth Street. Traffic will continue to be allowed on Sixth Street, but motorists won’t be able to turn onto Iowa Street. Motorists on Iowa Street won’t be allowed to turn onto Sixth Street. The work is expected to begin around 7 p.m. and be done by 10 p.m., Soules said.
On Saturday morning, paving work will begin. During paving, Iowa Street access will be closed just like it was for the milling work. That work is expected to take place throughout the day on Saturday. Some work will continue on Monday, but the Iowa/Sixth Street connection should be restored by then.
In case you have forgotten, the main purpose of the project was to add a left-turn lane on Sixth Street for westbound motorists wanting to turn onto Iowa Street. Longtime motorists understand why this lane will be useful. You are driving on Sixth Street, minding your own business, day dreaming about KU basketball ball, Free State beer and ways to combine the two perhaps using a large screen TV and a sanitized Jacuzzi. Then, bam, you open your eyes and realize you are in the left lane of Sixth Street even though you want to continue to go straight through the intersection. You stop and spend approximately 23 minutes waiting behind the yahoo in the F150 pickup truck with a U-Haul trailer waiting to turn onto Iowa Street so he can pick up his daily supply of doughnuts from the fine purveyors at Ninth and Iowa Streets. We’ve all been there, right?
Well, by early next week, a left-turn lane should be in place and operational, city officials tell me. The intersection also will have some new right-turn lanes, new striping and other things you’ll want to pay attention to. So, at least for the next few days, keep your eyes open.
• As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday (@clawhorn_ljw) Lawrence in August 2014 had the highest job growth rate of any metro area in the U.S. The numbers come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a group by the name of Talent Tribune took the time to rank the top 10 metro areas for the month.
Lawrence finished first with a 5.9 percent increase in jobs compared to August 2013. During the one-year period, the numbers show the Lawrence metro area (which is Douglas County) added 2,800 jobs. Lawrence was slightly better than Midland, Texas, which grew by 5.6 percent.
The numbers from the BLS are preliminary, so they may get revised at a later date. But as I reported earlier this month, an economist at Wichita State also had pointed out that Lawrence’s job numbers seemed to be on a rebound. So, it is definitely something to watch for.
I chatted with chamber president and CEO Larry McElwain about the numbers, and to his credit, he wasn’t unfurling the Mission Accomplished banner just yet. It is just one month of numbers, after all.
“I still have caution on those numbers,” McElwain said. “I want to make sure they are good jobs and not just temporary jobs. I want to make sure they are jobs that meet the needs of our residents, and not just minimum wage or slightly above.”
It is tough to point to what may have led to an increase of 2,800 jobs in the last year. But it is likely a couple of major employers have added to the totals. If you remember, Hallmark cards did some major reorganizing of its production plants in the region. Lawrence’s production plant ended up being a winner in that process. We reported in March 2013 that Hallmark expected to add about 200 jobs to its Lawrence plant during the course of 2013. That number may have grown some even, I’m told.
General Dynamics, which operates the former NCS/Pearson call center in East Hills also has been adding jobs. In September, we reported that General Dynamics may be adding about 400 jobs for a customer service contract related to the Affordable Care Act. Whether some new General Dynamics jobs started showing up in August, I don’t know.
Part of it just may be pent-up demand by hundreds of small businesses in the area. Lawrence has not grown jobs at the same type of pace several other communities have over the last few years. Lawrence companies may finally just be feeling that they are on a firmer footing and are now expanding. It will be interesting to watch the numbers that come out in the next few months. But for the time being, we can tout that our job growth rate is better than everybody else’s, if even just for a month. Here’s a look at how other area communities fared during August 2014.
— Manhattan: 2.8 percent
— Topeka: 1.7 percent
— Wichita: 1.2 percent
— Kansas City: 0.5 percent.
— Kansas as a whole: 1.1 percent