Posts tagged with Lawrence
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
Reduced parking plan for apartments may have uphill battle; nearly 80 percent of rental inspections finding violations; a powerful video about a Lawrence fire
Just a note to whoever is making the decision about who will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Kauffman Stadium tonight: I’m warmed up and have pin-point control. It is not even 10 a.m. yet, and I’ve already hit my Royal blue shirt with nacho cheese sauce, my Royal blue tie with mustard, and my Royal blue foam finger with relish. Absent that last-minute call from the K, however, I’ll be at the Lawrence City Commission meeting, where commissioners may end up involved in a big game as well.
The future of a proposed $75 million apartment/retail building across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium may hinge on whether commissioners grant the Chicago-based development group an exception from the city’s parking regulations. The group wants to reduce the amount of parking for the 237-unit apartment complex by 100 spaces. New information suggests the group may have an uphill battle to win approval.
City Commissioner Terry Riordan told me Monday afternoon that he has some concerns about granting the parking exception. It is difficult to see how the project can win approval without Riordan’s support. Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Bob Schumm have been pretty firm in their opposition to the parking request.
“I’m very sensitive to parking,” said Riordan, who lives in the Oread neighborhood. “I wanted to hear something that said our present regulations are too restrictive. I haven’t heard that yet. If we make a mistake and allow too little parking, that will be forever.”
We’ve been over all this before. Several neighbors are opposed to the request, citing concerns the reduced parking will push more vehicles into the already crowded Oread neighborhood. The development group, HERE LLC, has cited statistics from KU that show only about 60 to 70 percent of students who live on campus bring a vehicle to school with them. Developers say they are expecting that statistic to hold true in their development. Others aren’t so sure that residents of the luxury-style apartments will come to Lawrence without a car.
Riordan lives next door to an apartment complex in Oread. It is within walking distance to the university, and he hasn’t seen evidence that 30 percent of those residents don’t have vehicles.
“Next door to me they have three or four spots open at the most, and most of the time it is full,” Riordan said of the parking lot. “And I’ve never seen a kid take public transportation from there.”
The development group has said the reduced parking standards are “vital” to the future of the project. At last report, the development hadn’t secured financing, despite the city agreeing to give the apartment project — which also includes about 13,000 square feet of retail — an 85 percent, 10-year property tax rebate.
That may be the game city commissioners find themselves playing: Will this project get built if commissioners deny the parking request? How much will the city lose if it doesn’t get built? What will be the consequences of reducing the city’s parking standards?
“I think I would rather err on the side of building too much parking and hope they still build the project anyway. I do think it could be a great project.”
There is one large caveat to all of this: Riordan could still change his mind. He said he’ll be on the lookout for information that could sway his opinion Tuesday night.
So, as they say in the baseball business, it isn’t over until the fat lady sings. (A note to Kauffman Stadium officials in charge of finding the fat lady for tonight’s game: I think I could pull that off too.)
As a reminder, tonight’s meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. instead of its normal 6:35 p.m. start time.
In other news and notes from around town:
• City politics recently have been so dominated by the plan for a new police headquarters building that it has been easy to forget that commissioners passed a politically divisive piece of legislation just months ago: rental licensing.
The rental licensing program is up and running, and we’re starting to get some of our first numbers back from City Hall. The program began conducting inspections and issuing licenses in August. Inspectors have been finding violations.
Through September, the city has conducted 43 initial inspections of apartments, and 34 of them have found violations. In other words, nearly 80 percent of all the apartments the city has inspected thus far have had violations that must be fixed before the apartment can receive a city license. In total, the city found 133 violations in those 43 apartments.
Thus far, the top violations are faulty smoke alarms (50); faulty GFCI receptacles (27); faulty outlet covers (18); faulty windows (13); and faulty plumbing fixtures (9).
The report indicates that landlords have done a good job in fixing the problems. Through September, 24 of the 26 units had fixed all their violations.
I plan to check in with landlords in the coming days to find out their thoughts on how the program is working and provide you a more detailed report. If you are one of the landlords who have been through the inspection process, feel free to reach out to me.
• I don’t spend a lot of time watching videos online. I only recently figured out how to really work my VCR, so I’ve been catching up on a lot of "Cosby Show" episodes I have taped. But there is one online video I watched recently, and it was produced by the city of Lawrence. It tells the story of Brianne Goldston, who survived a brutal house fire that occurred last June in the Oread neighborhood. If you get time, you should watch it because her story is a powerful one.
At one point she tells how she was lying in the hallway of her multistory home thinking how crazy it was that she was going to die in this fire. She talks about how the scenes you see on TV of people running through a fire or even through a large plume of smoke are such Hollywood fiction. She describes how the smoke feels just like the fire. It is super hot and will burn your lungs, and suck the life right out of you. She talks about how the smoke alarms in this house didn’t work they way they were supposed to. And she urged everyone to plan ahead. Take a moment before a fire starts to figure out how you would get out of your home.
The video is on the city’s Web site, and I plan to show it to my kids and wife, and then take a simple five minutes to go over how to open windows or access other escape routes in my house.
City set to approve plans for new West Lawrence grocery store; county and school district ask for more than $500k in fee waivers from city
In the future, please pay no mind to the woman at the intersection of Sixth and Wakarusa pushing a filing cabinet on wheels and muttering about 5 cents off yogurt cups. That will be my wife with her grocery coupons, and you really can't blame her for appearing a bit disoriented. If all goes according to plan, many a grocery shopper soon may be overwhelmed with options at that intersection.
City commissioners at their meeting tonight are scheduled to approve a plan that will allow for a new specialty grocery store to be built in the Bauer Farm development at the northeast corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. That will make for the third grocery store at the intersection, joining Dillons and Walmart, which operates a grocery department.
As we reported in February, the plans call for a 27,000 square-foot building that would house a "farmers' market-style" grocer. The development group, which is led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor, haven't released the identity of the specialty grocer, at the request of the grocer. The best information I have from sources is that it is not a Trader Joe's, which for whatever reason is a store I always get asked when it is coming to Lawrence. The speculation around town is that a chain called Sprouts Farmers Market is the most likely tenant for the spot, but take that for whatever you think it is worth.
But there is some good reason to think Sprouts is on the way. The company has been on an expansion path, and it has opened a store in Overland Park. The company's website describes Sprouts as a "healthy grocery store offering fresh, natural and organic foods." The company was founded in 2002 in Arizona, and now has more than 170 stores in nine states. Again, there is nothing official on this, but we'll see if lips begin to loosen once plans for the project receive City Commission approval.
The project comes to the commission tonight with a positive recommendation from both the planning staff and the planning commission. The grocery store development has been the headline grabber, but there are other interesting elements to the plan. They include:
• The development group wants the master development plan for the area to show a 108-room hotel near the corner of Wakarusa Drive and Overland Drive. When I last talked to a representative of the development group, there was no tenant for such a hotel, but the group wanted to show it on the plan so marketing for such a tenant could begin. I was told developers think the site may have some potential for a hotel as more visitors come to the Rock Chalk Park area.
• A changing of the plans to allow for an 11,623 square-foot retail building that could house several smaller tenants. It would be next to the grocery store development.
• The addition of six multifamily apartment buildings to the plans. The buildings would be on property east of the current Lawrence Community Theatre property.
In total, the changes would allow for 122,000 square feet of retail development at that corner of the intersection, up from a previously approved cap of 72,000 square feet. Retail caps at the intersection have been a contentious issue in the past. Neighbors have opposed some retail development at the intersection because of fears that the area will become overwhelmed with traffic and other issues that come with big-box retailers. The most recent opposition was when the City Commission rejected a plan for Lowe's to locate in Bauer Farm. There have been some letters of opposition related to this current proposal, but thus far the amount of opposition has not approached what was seen with the Lowe's development, or the Walmart development before that.
On the apartment side of things, the proposed changes would allow for 342 dwelling units on the property, up from a previously approved cap of 272.
A change that is tougher to quantify is how the overall feel of the Bauer Farms development will change. The project was originally touted as an example new urbanism, a development philosophy that really mixes residential and commercial uses and promotes pedestrian activity and other features that you would be more likely to see in an urban, rather than suburban, environment.
The development as it has been built does have a mix of uses, and it does have a bit of a different look than traditional developments. For example, many of the commercial buildings are closer to the street and often have their parking more out of view from the main thoroughfare. But the planning staff's recent report notes that these proposed changes move the project closer to a "more conventional retail development form."
The Bauer Farm development in its beginning years certainly had to deal with a national economic downturn that caused a lot of plans to be changed. But I think it also is fair to say that the project has created the question of how large of an appetite Lawrence currently has for new urbanism development.
The city several years ago spent a lot of time, and some money, exploring the idea of new urbanism and traditional neighborhood designs. It will be interesting to see if community leaders continue to push for that type of development in the future.
In other news and notes from around town:
• City commissioners will have an interesting decision to make tonight that will affect two of its fellow local governments: Douglas County and the Lawrence school district.
Both governments are asking the city to waive some fees that are charged as part of development projects. City staff members are recommending against the fee waivers.
Douglas County is building a new public works facility on East 25th Street near the Douglas County Jail. As part of the project, the county is asking for a waiver of an approximately $265,000 sewer and water system development charge, or more commonly known as an impact fee. The city has been charging such fees since 1996, when new projects hook onto the sewer and water system. It is designed to help the city keep up with expanding water and sewer plants and other big-ticket items that are necessitated by a growing number of users.
The school district is asking for a waiver of about $280,000 in building permit fees associated with a variety of expansion and remodeling projects related to the $92.5 million school bond issue.
City Manager David Corliss is recommending that the fee waivers be denied. The general argument is that even though these are public projects, they still will be creating costs for the city. In the case of the public works facility, the city says it is another connection point on the city's system, and thus must be accounted for in future capital improvement planning. As for the school district project, the city will be sending building inspectors to the construction sites, and there is a cost to do that.
The school district issue, however, has an interesting twist. School district officials note that Kansas University isn't required to even go through the city's building inspection process. The school district believes it has found a lawsuit that says it is not required to go through the city's full building inspection process either, although it says it does want to do so. The city, however, doesn't agree with that legal analysis. Regardless, the school district says it wants to spend as much of the $92.5 million in bond money on children as possible.
"Like KU, USD 497 is an educational institution seeking to spend public monies to educate kids," Superintendent Rick Doll wrote in a letter to the city.
Although neither party mentioned it, it does seem the matter has been complicated by another decision by the City Commission. The commission last year agreed to rebate a whole host of building permit fees and other fees as part of the Rock Chalk Park project. The city was under no obligation to do so, but decided to offer the rebate as part of an "economic development grant" to the project. That grant was in addition to the city ultimately agreeing to pay for the vast majority of all the infrastructure needed to serve the privately owned softball, soccer and track and field facilities that will be leased by KU. I suppose the school district could make an argument that $92.5 million worth of improvements to the education system in the city will have a positive impact on economic development, and thus is worthy of a similar grant. We'll see how it goes tonight, and whether any of the three governments leave City Hall with hard feelings.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today at City Hall.
Warren-McElwain Mortuary sold to new owner; Eudora ranked in family-friendly survey; properties to be added to local historic register
The certainty of death and taxes never changes, but the owners of funeral homes do, even for those that have more than a 100-year history in the community.
Longtime funeral director Larry McElwain confirmed to me that he's finalized a deal to sell Warren-McElwain Mortuary to a veteran funeral home operator who is moving from California to Kansas.
Jim Larkin of Caring Funeral Service completed a deal last week to purchase Warren-McElwain. But both Larkin and McElwain stressed that little will change with the business, which operates funeral homes in both Lawrence and Eudora. The Warren-McElwain name will remain, and the company will continue operating at its current locations. Even McElwain will remain on the staff as a funeral director.
"I will continue to be there full-time," McElwain, 65, said. "I still love what I do. I'm not tired or burnt out. I just think it is a great opportunity for me. It will be nice to have a little more time to see my wife and kids and family."
Larkin, 63, said he plans to operate Warren-McElwain as an independent, locally owned funeral home. Larkin has owned up to 16 different funeral homes in California, but he is in the process of selling all of those establishments. His family largely is from the St. Joseph, Mo., area, and he said he was ready to move back to the Midwest to be closer to them. Larkin said he is in the process of moving to Lawrence.
"As soon as I learned the firm could be for sale, I began to act," Larkin said. "I knew it had an excellent reputation, and Lawrence is an excellent community. That combination doesn't happen too often."
McElwain has been considering a sale for many months. He said finding a buyer that was not one of the large chain operators of funeral homes was important to him.
"Selling to a corporate buyer would have changed everything," McElwain said. "People would have been reporting to somebody in Houston or New Orleans or wherever."
Larkin said all of Warren-McElwain's employees have been retained as part of the deal. That includes Phil Padden, who had been a partner in the business with McElwain until 2011. McElwain solely owned the firm at the time of the sale last week.
The roots of Warren-McElwain date back to 1904 with the founding of the Schubert Funeral Home in Eudora. In 1909, Funk Mortuary was founded in Lawrence. By the 1950s, the two businesses were merged together by Fred Cooper and William Warren. McElwain began working in the business in 1968 as a college student. He and his father, Keith, then purchased the business in 1974 following the death of Warren.
Larkin purchased his first funeral home in 1972 in Iowa. He began operating funeral homes in California in 1999.
"Warren-McElwain was so well run that Larry really had a lot of choices of whom he could sell his funeral home to," Larkin said. "I feel honored that he selected me."
In other news and notes from around town:
• So, there is a reason why my Eudora home often looks like a scene from "The Lord of the Flies" — dozens of kids who aren't mine ruling the backyard and raiding the snack cabinets: Eudora is one of the top places in Kansas for young families, according to a new survey.
The financial website NerdWallet ranked the top 10 Kansas cities for young families, and Eudora finished No. 7 on the list. It was the only Douglas County community to make the list.
The eastern Douglas County community of about 6,000 fared well in terms of its school rankings, home affordability and its community growth. The editors of the website also highlighted short commute times for Eudora residents and an abundance of parks and recreation opportunities for a community its size.
The study looked at academic performance ratings for schools, median housing values, monthly homeowner costs and the community's growth rate. Lawrence did not make the top 10, but there must be something along the K-10 corridor that makes it attractive to families. De Soto, just east of Eudora, was ranked No. 6; Overland Park was No. 8.
Andover, a suburb of Wichita, was ranked No. 1. Click here to see the entire top 10.
• Three Lawrence properties may soon get listed on the city's Register of Historic Places. City commissioners at their meeting tonight will consider the following properties:
— The Turnhalle Building at 900 Rhode Island St., which is an 1868 building that housed the once popular German social club Lawrence Turnverein.
— The Kibbee House at 1500 Haskell Ave., which is a large 1909 farmhouse near the corner of 15th and Haskell in East Lawrence.
— The Joseph Savage house at 1734 Kent Terrace, which likely is one of the older homes in Douglas County. It was built as a rural farmstead in 1855.
Placing homes on the Lawrence Register of Historic Places has taken on new importance in recent months. Previously if properties were listed on the state or national registers of historic places, the area — or environs — around the properties had to undergo a special review before new development could take place.
But the Kansas Legislature during the last session passed a law that eliminates those environs reviews for state and nationally listed properties. But properties listed on the Lawrence Register of Historic Places do still trigger a review of any development that happens within 250 feet of the listed property.
The local environs review is generally considered less stringent than the previous environs review process associated with the state and national registers. For example, the state and national environs review was triggered whenever development occurred within 500 feet of a listed property.
As we reported in June, some historic preservationists said the law change will make it more important to get properties listed on the local register. There are many properties on the state and national registers that have not taken the time to get listed on the local register, mainly because there are no tax credits or other financial incentives that come with the local listing.
Before the state changed the environs review law, there were about 3,200 properties that would have required a historic environs review before development could have occurred. In other words, there were 3,200 properties within 500 feet of a listed property. After the law change, city officials estimated that number fell to about 1,500 properties.
But if the Lawrence register is expanded, that number will steadily increase. Expect it to grow tonight. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. at City Hall.
More LJWorld City Coverage
Former Pachamamas building to become event gallery; downtown landlords looking at solar project for Mass. Street rooftops; park near 19th and Haskell set to honor firefighters, former Chief McSwain
• Let me just start with this: If I hit a golf ball into your wedding party, I’m sorry. But I hope you’ll let me play through. (I also hope you’re distracted enough that I’ll be able to steal a piece of cake.)
A wedding party along a beautiful Lawrence golf course is a service the country clubs in town have been offering forever and a day. But soon there will be another player in that market.
Longtime Lawrence financial planner Wayne McDaniel has finalized a deal to purchase the former Pachamamas restaurant building at 2161 Quail Creek Drive.
If you remember, before Pachamamas moved to its current downtown location on New Hampshire Street several years ago, it got started in a unique building behind the Hy-Vee at Clinton Parkway and Kasold.
The building backs up to part of the Alvamar Golf Course. (I think it backs up to the public course, but I get confused because with my swing I sometimes inadvertently play both courses in the same round.)
McDaniel plans to convert the building into Arterra Event Gallery. McDaniel said the business will host weddings, receptions, corporate events and anything else of that nature.
Work is starting now to remodel the inside to make it a bit more of a wide open space. Once that is completed, McDaniel said he expects the venue will be able to accommodate events of about 250 people.
McDaniel — who will continue to operate his McDaniel Knutson Financial Partners business — has hired a manager to run the day-to-day operations of the event gallery. He expects the facility will start hosting events in March.
McDaniel said the building, which has been empty for at least six years, has long intrigued him.
“I have always loved architecture and I have looked at that building for three or four years,” McDaniel said. “I would tell myself that I love that building, but I wish I could figure out some way to use it.”
McDaniel said upon some reflection he thought an event business would do well because the location is easy to get to, it has its own parking, and the building has a “rustic elegance” to it that should create a good ambiance for a variety of events.
I can only think of one potential downside to the location: It may cause my wife to start caddying my golf games. If she thinks there is a chance for cake, she’ll be there.
• An interesting place to be in future months may be atop the roof of Sunflower Bike Shop or Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence. Both buildings are owned by groups led by longtime downtown landlords David and Susan Millstein.
The couple is working on an idea to put a large number of solar panels on their two buildings. Plans have been filed at City Hall for the Sunflower Bike and Outdoor Shop building, 804 Massachusetts St., and Susan confirmed to me that the Liberty Hall building also may be in the works.
According to the plans at City Hall, the Sunflower building could house about 60 solar panels on the roof. The only thing I know about electricity is that I’m not going to touch the red wire again, but I think that is a fairly sizable solar project.
Susan Millstein said David had more of the details and that the plans were still a bit in flux. But I hope to hear from him, and will pass along more details when I get them.
But it could be an interesting project for downtown. With the new hydroelectric power plant on the northern edge of downtown on the Kansas River, the area may have the makings to start marketing itself as a green energy district. (I’m not sure what a green energy district is, but it sure sounds like something you would market in today’s age.)
I’ve long thought the roofs of downtown buildings are destined to get more attention. I’ve thought it would be as rooftop dining areas, but perhaps it will be as solar panel fields. Or maybe they can be both. I could get a tan while I sip my cocktail.
• Town Talk will take a couple of days off for the Thanksgiving holiday and will return on Monday. But while we’re in the Thanksgiving mood, here is a brief item about how the city is getting closer to approving a project that would thank a group of public servants: firefighters.
Leaders with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department are set to forward a recommendation to city commissioners to use the park at 19th and Haskell to remember area firefighters.
The park currently doesn’t have a name, but rather is just a bit of an open field with some playground equipment and a basketball goal.
But the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board is now recommending it be named Firefighters Remembrance Park. The idea came from Rachel McSwain, the widow of longtime Lawrence fire chief Jim McSwain.
The park is adjacent to the city’s firefighting training facility. Rachel McSwain said current Lawrence fire chief Mark Bradford had mentioned the idea to her at Chief McSwain’s funeral in 2008.
The plan is the park would have a plaque recognizing McSwain and his contributions to the city after serving 27 years as the city’s fire chief.
But in addition, other people will be allowed to make donations to the parks department to sponsor benches, trees or other park amenities in memory or recognition of firefighters. Each donation likely would come with its own plaque naming the firefighters being honored.
Parks leaders are finalizing some of those types of details and then plan to forward the recommendation for final approval by city commissioners.
Originally Rachel McSwain and her family had suggested naming the park after Chief McSwain. Parks and Recreation officials, however, pitched this broader idea to the family. When the city’s parks board recently gave its recommendation, a tearful McSwain said she was “thrilled” with the idea.
“All of the McSwain family has been very supportive of the idea,” Rachel said. “It is going to be great.”
Here’s hoping you all have a great and safe Thanksgiving, and that you get to thank everyone who is important to you.
City asked to provide monthly funding for arts coordinator; new report recommends water/sewer bill increases; city set to approve longevity bonuses
News and notes from around town:
• You might notice that Town Talk looks a bit different today. (Why is there a slightly shaven man staring at you, for instance?) Well, that’s progress folks. We’re switching this column and others over to our blogging platform. Hopefully, it will provide you an easier way to click on Town Talk and catch up on the posts that you may have missed. It also will provide us a better platform to build some new gizmos and gadgets in the future.
But all of this is a work in progress, so I hope you’ll bear with us. Case in point: On this page currently you’ll see some really old Town Talks. That’s a glitchy thing. (Sorry to get so technical on you.) Soon enough, those old Town Talks will be replaced by newer Town Talks, and then you’ll be able to click on one page and scroll from top to bottom and see the newest Town Talk and ones from the past several days. In the meantime, take advantage of our free time machine and catch up on what was going on back in 2010.
Case in point No. 2 in the glitchy category: A few hundred of you have signed up to have Town Talk delivered to your inbox each weekday. For the time being, those daily e-mails will be replaced by a couple of e-mails per week reminding you that you can find all the Town Talks on this page. We hope to get the daily e-mail feature back up and running in the future. Another option for those who are interested is to friend me on Facebook. I plan to be more faithful in posting a daily link to Town Talk on that page each day at noon.
• In honor of the Mona Lisa-like portrait that now adorns this page (wait a minute, that might not be as flattering a description as I had hoped), let’s talk a little art.
City commissioners at their meeting tonight will be asked to spend a few thousand dollars on a couple of art projects. Here’s a look: — The Lawrence Arts Center is asking the city to come up with $300 per month to help fund a part-time coordinator for the Final Fridays arts events that takes place the last Friday of each month in downtown. The city’s Cultural Arts Commission has been providing $300 a month for the coordinator position for the last couple of years, using some essentially leftover funding in its budget. But that pot of money has dried up, and now city commissioners are being asked to come up with the $300 out of the city’s general till. Susan Tate, executive director of the Lawrence Arts Center, told me it is “absolutely vital” to have a coordinator for the monthly events. That’s because many of the art showings for the events happen at non-traditional gallery spaces, such as coffee shops, retail stores, or vacant buildings. Connecting artists with those spaces takes, well, coordination.
The Lawrence Arts Center and Downtown Lawrence Inc. already each provide $300 per month for the coordinator position. That funding arrangement will continue, Tate said.
— The second project is a more speculative venture, but one that arts leaders think could produce a big bang. The city is being asked to provide $2,000 in funding for a grant writer to prepare an application to the National Endowment of the Arts.
The Lawrence Arts Center is hoping to win up to $200,000 in funding to start a program that would create a new digital media education program. The project would bring in as an artist-in-residence R. Luke DuBois, a notable New York-based artist who specializes in new media.
The program also would reach out to East Lawrence’s New York Elementary School to provide new media education for students.
The end result, arts leaders hope, is an explosion of creativity in the world of new media. That could mean multiple short film projects, animation projects, computer-generated artistic projections, live music with digital effects, and all sorts of other things that would require me to break out high-tech words such as gizmos and doo-dads.
The project would culminate with a bulked up Free State Film and Music Festival. The Arts Center has hosted the Free State festival the last two years, but with more funding, leaders believe they could take it to a whole other level of national prestige.
Lawrence will face stiff competition for the NEA grant dollars. Tate said the city won’t learn whether it has received any funding until September.
• Perhaps there is a way the digital animators can make your yard look green through the heat of the Kansas summer. Right now that takes lots of water, and a new report out of City Hall is recommending that you’ll need to pay more for that water in the future.
This report is new — as in just a few hours old — so I haven’t fully digested the nearly 80-page report yet. But it appears the report holds strong to the city staff’s previous recommendation that water and sewer rates need to go up in order to provide the type of service residents have come to expect.
If you remember, city commissioners during their budget deliberations this summer took the unusual step of deferring action on the city’s water and sewer rates for 2013. Staff members had recommended rate increases of between 4 percent to 6 percent for most customers.
This new report is recommending what looks to be a 28.6 percent rate increase phased in over the next five years for the average water user — which the city considers to be a household that uses about 4,000 gallons of water per month.
In other words, the typical water and sewer bill is estimated to be $47.64 per month currently. In 2017, that typical bill would be $61.30 per month.
The extra revenue would help fund many maintenance projects, but most notably it also would allow the city to build the long-talked about multi-million dollar sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River by 2018. I suspect that will be a major point of discussion. That project easily could cost $70 million, and I’m not sure city commissioners are convinced the city’s population is growing fast enough to justify the expense.
But delaying the project is risky business because if the city’s population growth does pick back up, the city will need several years to complete the project. City planners want to avoid a situation of having a shortage of sewage treatment capacity to meet growth needs.
As I said, there is a lot of information in the report, and several additional rate scenarios. Keep an eye on this space for future updates.
• One last City Hall item before commissioners meet tonight: City commissioners are expected to approve about $425,000 worth of year-end bonuses for city employees.
As has become the practice, the city is set to provide a year-end bonus to employees who have at least five years of service with the city. City leaders don’t like it when the program is referred to as a bonus, but it largely meets the definition because the payment is a one-time event, and whether the payment is made is entirely up to the discretion of the City Commission. The city however has made the annual payment every year since at least 1997, so many city employees have come to count on the year-end payment.
City officials call the program its longevity payment program. It pays all employees with at least five years of service with the city $4 for every month they have served with the city, or $48 for each year of service. This year, a record 599 employees qualify for the program. That tops last year’s record of 583 employees. The city’s workforce has shrunk over the last few years, but I believe its turnover rate also has declined. That means there are more longtime employees at the city.
The city is set to pay $424,380 as part of the program this year, which represents about a 3 percent increase from what was paid a year ago.
In past years, tight budgets have caused city commissioners to debate about whether to make the year end payments. But the city’s budget outlook has improved some in 2012, and I’ve heard no concerns from commissioners about the year-end program. Commissioners are scheduled to approve the payments as part of their consent agenda at their 6:35 p.m. meeting tonight.