Posts tagged with Menards
Chamber announces tentative deal for $25 million, 100-job manufacturing plant on east edge of Lawrence
Lawrence may become a Menards town. The Lawrence chamber of commerce is announcing this morning that the giant home improvement retailer has plans to build a Lawrence-based manufacturing plant and distribution center that will bring 100 jobs to town.
Midwest Manufacturing, a division of Menard Inc., has reached a preliminary deal to buy 90 acres of property in Lawrence VenturePark, the new business park on the east edge of Lawrence that previously housed Farmland Industries. If the deal is finalized, Menards would become the first tenant of the new business park.
“It is an exciting opportunity,” said Brady Pollington, vice president of the Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence and Douglas County, which helped broker the deal. “The community will get 100 jobs, and people in Lawrence won’t have to drive 30 or 40 minutes to find a good job that pays a living wage.”
Menard Inc. plans to invest $25 million to build the project, which will include multiple buildings and 170,000 to 200,000 square feet of production and distribution space. Pollington said plans call for the plant to build exterior stone products, roof trusses and possibly other types of building products that are sold in Menards stores across the country.
Menards recently opened its first store in Lawrence near 31st and Iowa streets.
Pollington said all the jobs at the plant will meet the city’s living wage standards, which currently stand at $12.56 per hour plus benefits. The living wage levels rises each year because it is pegged to the federal poverty level for a family of three. The city’s living wage ordinance requires that firms that receive a property tax abatement must pay a wage that is at least 130 percent of the federal poverty level.
Menard Inc. will seek a tax abatement for the project. The company will seek a 10-year, 50 percent tax abatement for the development, Pollington said. The total value of the incentive package is about $2.1 million, with some of the money coming from the state of Kansas for workforce training assistance, Pollington said.
Importantly, though, Menard Inc. is agreeing to pay for the land and the special assessments that are attached to the land as part of the deal. Pollington said the purchase price of the land and the payment of the special assessments — which were used to fund utility and road improvements at the park — will equal about $2.1 million. The fact the city is getting paid for the land may surprise some. The city did not pay to acquire the nearly 400 acres of the former Farmland property. Instead, it took over the property in exchange for assuming the environmental clean-up responsibilities of the property. The city received a multimillion dollar trust fund from the Farmland bankruptcy trust to pay for the clean up costs.
Pollington said the City Commission is expected to receive the abatement request in early December, and it likely will take several weeks for the proposed deal to be debated at City Hall.
Check back for more on this story later today.
Deal in the works for KC firm to buy homegrown, Lawrence manufacturer; Ulta Beauty open on south Iowa
In one way, Lawrence is kind of a hot spot in the extreme sports world of off-road racing, and I’m not even talking about the white-knuckle trek my wife’s Ford Taurus takes when there is a sale on South Iowa Street. No, Lawrence is home to HiPer Technologies, a homegrown manufacturing firm that has become a leader in making high-performance racing wheels for the ATV market. Well, there’s big news on the horizon for HiPer, and also questions about whether its future will remain in Lawrence.
HiPer is close to finalizing a deal to be purchased by Kansas City-based Weld Wheels, which is generally regarded as the top manufacturer of racing wheels in America. News of the deal started to circulated around town, and Andy Harris, chief executive of Lawrence’s HiPer, confirmed to me that the shareholders of HiPer have approved the sale. Now, HiPer and Weld are working on finalizing the remaining details.
One detail that is unclear is whether HiPer will continue to operate its Lawrence manufacturing facility near 31st and Haskell, or whether the company’s production will move to Weld’s large facility in Kansas City.
As word started to make its way through certain circles of town, people were telling me that HiPer indeed would be moving to Kansas City. Harris, though, said that detail is still being worked out.
“Is there a possibility for that to happen? Of course,” Harris said. “But that decision hasn’t been made yet.”
Harris said a timeline for finalizing the sale to Weld hasn’t yet been determined.
HiPer has 11 employees at its Lawrence facility, which is at 2920 Haskell Ave. If that address sounds familiar to you, then you need to spend less time memorizing the phone book. But indeed, it is the same address as the Peaslee Tech vocational training center. HiPer and Peaslee Tech share space in the same building, which previously was occupied by Honeywell Avionics years ago. HiPer is a tenant of the building, and its lease payments go to help support the operations of Peaslee Tech. No word yet on how a move may impact that situation. UPDATE: I chatted with Hugh Carter of the Lawrence chamber of commerce, and he said the chamber has been aware of the pending sale. He said both parties have been in discussions about how Peaslee Tech will be made financially whole as part of any move by the HiPer, if it comes to that. Carter said if the HiPer space becomes vacant, he thinks there are some good possibilities to lease it to businesses that want to be near the new Peaslee Tech and the school district's College & Career Center that has developed on the site.
I’m not exactly sure what the fortunes of HiPer have been in recent years, but it at one point was a technology company that generated a lot of excitement in Lawrence. Lawrence native Tom Darnell Jr. was a founder of the company because he worked on developing this new carbon fiber product with DuPont in the early 2000s. I thought carbon fiber was just a new flavor for my Shredded Wheat, but I soon learned it actually is a material that is more resistant to impact than aluminum but also lighter than aluminum. The unique profile of being both lightweight and strong has caught the attention of racers and other high performance wheel users.
“The majority of top (ATV) drivers use our wheels,” Harris said.
I think the company also has been looking for other products that can be made using the carbon fiber material, and some of the intellectual property is probably part of the proposed deal with Weld.
But thus far, HiPer has mainly been able to focus only on the ATV and utility terrain vehicle market. Weld, on the other hand, is in a wide range of wheel markets.
“We are definitely trying to expand our product line, and Weld is a good strategic partner to do that,” Harris said.
I’ll keep you updated on how the deal progresses.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Some people are excited about Menards opening — its first official day is today — while others are excited about Ulta Beauty opening on south Iowa Street. (And I suppose there are many excited about both because I know a little rouge can be the perfect complement to a tool belt.) Well, Ulta has opened its new Lawrence location at 27th and Iowa streets. The store opened over the weekend, and is going through its soft opening currently.
Its grand opening is scheduled for this weekend. I’ve had difficulty catching up with Ulta officials to get the details, but keep an eye out at the location. The store, in case you have forgotten, is next to Dick's Sporting Goods at the southwest corner of 27th and Iowa streets.
Ulta lists itself as the largest beauty retailer in the country, and offers salon services in addition to cosmetics, fragrance, skin and hair care products.
UPDATE: The store will host grand opening festivities on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 10 a.m. each day. The store will provide a free gift valued at $5 to $100 for the first 100 people on each day of the grand opening. The store also will be giving away to select winners free hair and skin services at the store's full-service salon.
With Ulta open, three of the four major pieces of that retail development are now up and running. (Chick-fil-A is the third piece.) Now we’re waiting on an opening date for Boot Barn, which sells boots, jeans and other items. It is opening next door to Dick's Sporting Goods as well. I’ll let you know if I hear an opening date for that business.
That noise you hear is me trying to whistle the theme music that played before the big showdown scene in High Noon. That’s right, get ready for the showdown that has been eagerly awaited by everyone with an empty toolbox, a broken ladder, and plans of grandeur to build a massive Royals monument in the living room. Lawrence’s Menards store — right next to the Home Depot at 31st and Iowa streets — will open on Tuesday.
We began reporting earlier this month that sources and employees at the store told us the mega retailer would open on Tuesday or Wednesday, but now Menards has made it official with a news release saying that Tuesday is the day.
In its release, the company said the new store at 1470 W. 31st St. will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
“We have noticed there is much excitement in the air with the anticipated store opening,” Rob Jones, general manager for the Lawrence Menards, said in a press release. “Our team has been working really hard, and we’re excited to show everyone what we’ve been working on starting Tuesday.”
For those of you not familiar with a Menards, it is a major home improvement retailer, selling a full line of building materials, but it also carries name brand appliances, pet products, lawn and garden supplies, and the store even carries what it calls “convenience groceries.” (I remember seeing one of those approximately 5 gallon jugs of cheese puffs at a Menards store. Combine that with one of those beverage can holders that you wear around your head with an easy-to-access straw, and that is both convenience and luxury defined.)
The opening of the store is the latest game changer for the south Iowa Street retail corridor — which has seen Dick’s Sporting Goods open at 27th and Iowa and a host of other smaller redevelopments up and down the corridor. Menards is the biggest single store — by square footage — to open in Lawrence in years. When you look at the size of Menards you have to look at what is both inside and outside. Unlike Home Depot, Menards has an outdoor lumber yard. That combination makes Menards more than twice as large as the Home Depot store, which was built to smaller-than-normal standards after Home Depot in the early 2000s failed to win approval from the City Commission for a full-sized store.
As I’ve said before, it will be interesting to see if Home Depot tries to expand its Lawrence store. It will be even more interesting to see if this current City Commission would approve an expansion. The majority of the commission has changed since the Menards plans were approved by City Hall in 2013.
We’ll have to wait and see on all of that. A more immediate issue to watch is whether more development begins to occur around the Menards site. Everybody has been focused on the big Menards store, but the development plans for the project allow for several other lots surrounding the Menards to be developed with retail uses. The last plans I saw showed six lots that could accommodate everything from typical chain restaurants to multi-tenant buildings similar to what exists in front of Best Buy and Home Depot. No specific plans have been filed for buildings yet, and it is a little hard to estimate how large of a store the sites could accommodate because there are some floodplain issues in play. But I’ve previously had some people familiar with development tell me that perhaps a 20,000 square foot building could be accommodated, which could bring several national retailers into play.
As for whether the opening of Menards will create high-pitched competition in the home improvement sector, we’ll have to wait and see on that too. Menards and Home Depot are obviously used to competing against each other in a lot of markets. I’m sure those two retailers know what they need to do to compete. It will be interesting to watch how the competition impacts other, smaller businesses that are in that segment. I thinking about everything from McCray Lumber on Sixth Street to the Ace Hardware stores in town. I even heard from some people associated with the wholesale building, plumbing and electrical supply businesses in town. Menards is expected to compete for some of that wholesale business too. We’ll see how that all shakes out.
Health club buys west Lawrence tennis center; plans advance for tennis expansion at Rock Chalk Park; more on Menards
This is indeed the weekend when many in Lawrence will start to shift their attention from that sport played with the funny shaped ball to one played with a round ball. That’s right. It is time to turn our focus to tennis. What? What were you thinking, and why do you have Beware of the Phog written on your forehead? Maybe you have something else on your mind, but tennis is where some multimillion dollar developments are occurring.
As we reported in July, KU Athletics is working on a deal to build a new 78,000-square-foot tennis center complete with six indoor courts and six outdoor courts at Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence. At the time, KU officials said they weren’t sure what they would do with the university’s existing tennis center at 5200 Clinton Parkway in west Lawrence.
Well, it now looks like Genesis Health Clubs is going to get into the tennis business in Lawrence. The company has bought the Jayhawk Tennis Center and a vacant piece of ground next to the tennis center, according to land transfer filings at the Douglas County Courthouse. I’ve been hearing for weeks that Genesis was working on a deal to purchase the tennis center, and I’ve tried to get folks to talk to me about it. But they’ve avoided my phone calls like John McEnroe avoids pleasantries with a line judge. I’ve got a call into them now that the sale has been completed, so hopefully I’ll hear back and have more information to report.
When I originally heard of the deal, I assumed Genesis was buying the building in order to convert it into a far west Lawrence fitness center. But members at Genesis say they’ve been told the idea is to use the building as a tennis center. Who knows, maybe there also will be a fitness center component to the facility as well, and the vacant land gives the company quite a few options.
If the idea is to maintain it as a tennis center, that could get interesting. KU officials tell me their plans very much include selling public memberships to the new tennis center at Rock Chalk Park. If Genesis does so as well at Clinton Parkway, Lawrence will have two public tennis centers. As I’ve long said, there’s a reason why the inventor of tennis is buried in Lawrence. Am I confused again?
In all seriousness, I am told Lawrence does have a pretty active tennis community. The new facility at Rock Chalk Park certainly could put Lawrence in the running to host some sizable tennis events. Jim Marchiony, an associate athletic director at KU, said the new facility would give the university a chance to host the Big 12 Championships in Lawrence. The last time KU won the right to host the Big 12 meet, it used courts in the Plaza area of Kansas City, Marchiony said.
Marchiony said KU would make the facility available to noncollegiate tennis tournaments and events as well. The new facility could be paired with the eight existing lighted, outdoor tennis courts that are owned by the city and are adjacent to the city’s recreation center at Rock Chalk Park.
KU’s tennis center basically will just be at the other end of the parking lot from those courts. Plans call for the tennis center to be on the southern end of Rock Chalk Park, just south of KU’s soccer field.
In addition to the six indoor courts and six outdoor courts, plans call for the center to have an elevated seating area that can accommodate about 500 spectators in the indoor facility. The center also will have an expanded locker room for the KU women’s tennis team, and a special members lounge and locker room, according to Paul Werner, the Lawrence-based architect designing the project.
The new facility will be a significant upgrade over the current facility at Clinton Parkway. That facility has five indoor courts, limited spectator seating, and spectators often can’t see the play that is happening on all courts.
Marchiony said KU hopes to be able to move into the new center in time for the start of the KU women’s spring 2017 season. Marchiony said KU has struck a deal to continue playing at the Clinton Parkway facility in the interim.
As we previously reported in July, the KU tennis center at Rock Chalk Park will be built using a public-private partnership that is similar to what KU used to build its track and field, soccer and softball facilities at Rock Chalk Park. The tennis facility will be owned by an entity led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel. The Fritzel entity — Bliss Sports — also owns the track and field, soccer and softball facilities, but leases them to KU Athletics, although the Fritzel entity retains some rights to use the facilities for private uses.
The sale of the Clinton Parkway property is reflective of that partnership. KU Athletics — and its related entity Jayhawk Tennis Center LLC — did not directly sell the center to Genesis Health Clubs. Instead KU Athletics sold the property to Fritzel’s Bliss Sports. Bliss Sports later that day then sold the property to Genesis Health Clubs.
Marchiony said KU Athletics made the decision to sell the property to Bliss, and left it to Bliss to decide what it wanted to do with the property. Terms of the deal between Bliss and KU Athletics weren’t disclosed, but Marchiony said it was a fair market transaction.
As for the Rock Chalk tennis center, it already has won a positive recommendation from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. It now needs to win special use permit approval from the Lawrence City Commission. That appears to be a pretty straightforward approval. There have been no requests for tax incentives or for financial participation from the city, which would complicate the approval process at City Hall. I look for the project to be on the City Commission’s agenda in the next few weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I reported earlier this week that I thought we would get an announcement from Menards soon on the opening date for its new store near 31st and Iowa. I also told you that I had heard from some folks that Oct. 20 was a likely date. Since that report, I have heard from more employees of the store who say they definitely have been told to prepare for an Oct. 21 opening, although there may be some activity of a special nature on Oct. 20 as well. Like I said earlier, we should get an official announcement next week.
Another ‘escape room’ business likely to locate in Lawrence; rumors, rumblings and other speculation about an opening date for Menards
Years ago, when my wife suggested I start sleeping in the basement, and then she boarded shut the only exit, I thought we were just having fun. Little did I know that we were missing out on a business trend. Indeed, figuring out how to break out of a locked room is becoming quite the trend in Lawrence.
Last week, we told you about Breakout Lawrence, a new business venture that is in the works. The idea is people pay for the challenge of figuring out how to escape a themed room full of puzzles, quizzes and other mind-bending exercises. Shortly after our article about Breakout Lawrence appeared, I got a call from another group of entrepreneurs who said they also are opening a similar business in Lawrence. This one will be called Locked In.
Shannon Buerger and her daughter Camas House will own the new business. The pair have been negotiating for a second-floor space above a retail shop on Massachusetts Street, but I don’t think that has quite been finalized. So, it remains to be seen where the business will land.
These businesses are becoming a trend not just in Lawrence. They’re called escape rooms, and the idea that started in the Far East is starting to find its way to metro areas across the country. They each work a little differently, but the general concept is that you and a group of friends pay a fee, enter a themed room — everything from a faux motel room to a haunted house — then have to solve a variety of challenges that give you clues that ultimately lead you to discovering a code or a key that will allow you to unlock the room. Generally, you have about an hour to complete the task. If you haven’t, they’ll let you out anyway. (I have found basement rules are a little more strict.)
“I was reading a Time magazine, and there was a short article about an escape room in New York City,” Buerger said. “It talked about how it was such a booming business, and I thought it would be a great thing for Lawrence.”
Buerger said the business hopes to have about 1,200 square feet of space that can accommodate two escape rooms. She said the first one will be built around a zombie apocalypse theme. Much like Breakout Lawrence, she hopes to have the business open by Thanksgiving. (Full Disclosure: I too am opening one of these businesses, but it will be open only on Thanksgiving. It will be called Breakout Elastic Waistband.)
Buerger said Locked In will charge $25 per session. The business hopes to be downtown and have late-night hours that will appeal to the college crowd. But Buerger said the business also will seek to be family friendly. Groups will be limited to eight people, but she said the company will have a policy of not putting strangers in the room together, so some groups may be smaller. She said most of the puzzles and challenges will be geared toward ages 12 and up. (Forget zombies, as the parent of 12-year old boy, I can attest being locked in a room full of them will provide a special type of motivation to escape.)
We’ll keep an eye on how all of this progresses. Both businesses have left some details unsaid here. (Breakout Lawrence also had not finalized a location when I spoke with them.) Both businesses are obviously in a race to capture the public’s attention. It should be fun to watch. I’ll let you know if I see any new details — once I get out of the basement.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If somehow I were to be locked in a room with seven other people for an hour, I would field an hour’s worth of questions about when the Menards store in Lawrence will open. Everybody wants to know, and I wish I had a definitive answer.
I don’t, but I think we all will have one soon. I’ve been told by a Menards official that a press release with details about the opening is set to be issued in the middle of next week. I’ve also been told by others that employees at the store are preparing for an Oct. 20 opening. I’ve gotten no confirmation of that from Menards.
But there are plenty of signs that opening day is near. Lots of delivery trucks are accessing the site. And it is pretty easy to keep track of the progress. Unlike Home Depot next door, a good amount of Menards’ lumber yard is in a covered, outdoor area that is easy to see when you drive by. You can start to see products piling up in that yard.
It will be interesting to watch whether area residents become the recipients of price wars between Menards and Home Depot as the two battle to gain or keep market share in the early stages of this new competition. As I’ve said before, I think it also will be interesting to watch whether Home Depot files plans at City Hall to expand its Lawrence store. Menards is more than twice the size of Lawrence’s Home Depot. Officials with Home Depot previously wanted a larger store in Lawrence, but Home Depot was unsuccessful in the early 2000s in winning city approval for a larger store.
We’ll see how that all plays out. But in the meantime, I think it is a safe bet that we’ll be able to shop at the new Lawrence Menards before Halloween. That’s a scary thought for my credit card indeed.
Update on reopening plans for Ladybird, Jefferson’s, Biggs on Mass following fires; a guess on when Menards will open
If anything good comes out of the fires that have temporarily closed three downtown restaurants, it is that the pairing of doughnuts and bourbon may finally get its due. I have updates on reopening plans for the three eateries — Jefferson’s, Biggs on Mass, and Ladybird Diner — and yes, one of them really does involve doughnuts. (Also known in my house as the Breakfast of 18th Place. We’re fine with being middle of the pack if it means we can skip the Wheaties and instead have a chocolate glaze every morning.)
“I tell people that several years from now people are going to look back on the fire at Biggs, and say ‘that was the best thing that ever happened to doughnuts in Lawrence,’” said Meg Heriford, an owner of Ladybird Diner at 721 Massachusetts St.
If you remember, on March 3 a fire started in the smoking pit area of Biggs on Mass, and ever since that barbecue restaurant and the adjacent Ladybird Diner have been closed while crews work on removing smoke damage and replacing interior furnishings.
Heriford hopes to have Ladybird reopened sometime this summer. “I just don’t know if it is going to be the beginning of summer or near the end,” she said.
In the meantime Heriford has rented a commercial kitchen in town to work on new recipes for artisan doughnuts, which she said will be a larger part of the business when the diner reopens. Heriford said she recently was experimenting with a salted caramel popcorn doughnut with bourbon icing, another one that featured mango and chiles, and one that had espresso icing with cornflakes and bacon. Given the circumstances, I think one certainly should be the Fire in the Hole Doughnut, my own personal creation where you have the doughnut of your choice, while sitting in the hole is a round ball of Tabasco infused dough fried in Tabasco sauce. (Well, maybe there is a reason why I’m not yet on The Food Network, and perhaps even a reason why Bobby Flay sought that restraining order.)
Regardless, Heriford said work is continuing on the building rehabilitation, and she said it is much more extensive than she ever thought.
“The extent of the smoke damage caught us all off guard,” Heriford said. “I walked in after the fire and saw that we didn’t have any structural damage. We had a basement full of water, but I thought we would have everything cleaned up in a couple of days.”
Instead, Heriford has found that removing the smoke odor from the restaurant is complicated. The entire ceiling had to be removed, and new duct work also is required. Once the smoke issue is taken care of, there is a lot of work for the restaurant to reopen. Furnishings will have to be reinstalled, and a staff will have to be hired and trained again, Heriford said.
Heriford is trying to keep the Ladybird in the Lawrence food scene in the interim by selling pie from her sidewalk dining area every couple of weeks. She also has reached a deal where The Bourgeois Pig, 6 E. Ninth St., is selling Ladybird pies on the weekend.
Next door at Biggs on Mass, the latest plans are for the barbecue restaurant to reopen sometime in June. Owner Doug Holiday said he’s received a building permit from city officials, and work is underway to rebuild the back area of the building where the fire started. A major part of the renovation work at Biggs involves replacing all the electrical panels in the building, which were damaged by the water.
“There are no winners in this deal,” Holiday said. “Well, maybe the cleaning companies.”
Jefferson’s, 743 Massachusetts St., is the third business that is closed due to fire damage. Fire struck that building on Jan. 15, but it appears it may still have the most work to do to reopen.
Brandon Graham, an owner of Jefferson’s, told me that he hopes to reopen sometime in August, but said it is still too early to know whether that timetable is feasible.
“It is a complete remodel at this point,” Graham said.
Graham said the rebuilding process was complicated by the fact he did not have access to the building for a full month after the fire. Insurance officials were still investigating the cause of the fire. Graham said he still doesn’t know exactly what happened. An old air make-up unit on the roof played a role in the fire, but Graham said a transformer near the building also blew up near the time of the fire. Graham said he’s not yet learned whether a surge from the transformer caused a problem in the rooftop unit, or if something else occurred that caused the fire and the transformer problems.
At this point, Graham is focused on getting the restaurant reopened. He said the restaurant — which was known for burgers, wings and other sports bar fare — will come back with much of the same look and feel. One thing that won’t be back, though, are the thousands of decorated dollar bills that adorned the walls of the restaurant.
“They were ruined,” Graham said. “Everything stunk. We took them down and took them to the bank.”
How many were there? Well, you’ll get a chance to guess that. The restaurant plans to hold a contest where patrons guess how many dollar bills were on the wall. The winner will receive free wings for a year. Graham said the restaurant will restart the tradition where patrons can decorate a dollar and have it posted on the wall.
Graham said he’s optimistic the crowds will return to the restaurant once it reopens.
“We get quite a few questions about when we are going to reopen,” Graham said. “That makes us feel good that people in the community care about what is going on with us. I feel for our neighbors up the street who are going through it too. It is a difficult thing to deal with.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• High on the list of questions I receive — somewhere near the ones about tongue ointments for Tabasco burns — is: When is Menards going to open?
Well, I’ve received no information from Menards about its Lawrence opening date. But I get the question enough that I thought I should remind you what I’ve previously reported. Menards officials during the planning process told me it takes about nine to 10 months to build a Menards store. The company received a building permit from the city in September. I think that means there is a good chance the store could be open by the time the next school year starts in late August. Menards and Sprouts, the grocery store near Wakarusa and Overland drives, both started construction near the same time. Sprouts is set to open on July 1, although that building is significantly smaller than Menards.
If you have been near the 31st and Iowa area lately, perhaps you have gotten a sense of how big Menards is going to be, especially in comparison to the Home Depot that is next door. According to information filed with the city, Menards will have about 250,000 square feet of space under roof. That’s compared to about 94,000 square feet for Home Depot. Plus, Menards will have an approximately 150,000-square-foot outdoor lumber yard.
Home Depot certainly didn’t want to have such a small store in Lawrence, but that is all they could get approved by city commissioners in the early 2000s. I will not be surprise if Home Depot files plans for an expansion in Lawrence. I have no inside information on that, but I have noted that Home Depot has sought something called a zoning certification from the city. That’s just a piece of paperwork that confirms what the zoning is for a particular piece of property. Sometimes it is just for a lender or tax purposes, but other times it is the first step in a company putting together plans to build on a piece of property. It will be interesting to see how big of a home improvement battle we have at 31st and Iowa.
• Town Talk will be off tomorrow. Contrary to the rumors, I will not be recovering from doughnut experimentation. I will be parking cars at the Lawrence Swap Meet at the Douglas County Fairgrounds as part of a fundraiser for my kids’ 4-H club.
Two retail projects drive construction totals to new high in 2014; another good report on Lawrence job numbers
A little more than $9 million is being added to the Lawrence economy as we speak, and that is not even counting the spending my wife is doing on the post-Halloween candy that is on sale. Instead, I’m talking about two new retail construction projects underway in the city.
Construction work is underway on a Menards home improvement center near 31st and Iowa and on a Sprouts grocery store near Sixth and Wakarusa. The latest building permit reports from City Hall show the Menards project has a construction value of $5.5 million, while the Sprouts project checks in at $3.75 million.
Those two projects led the way in September, and the month ended up being the busiest one yet in 2014 for the local construction industry. The city issued permits for $17.1 million worth of construction work in September. That topped the $14.8 million worth of permits the city issued in June.
For the year, the city has issued building permits for $78.56 million worth of construction projects. That’s well below the $152.9 million worth of projects that were started through the end of September 2013. But last year was one of the larger construction years on record for the city, which included tens of millions of dollars for work at the Rock Chalk Park sports complex. In 2012, the city had issued permits for $75.4 million worth of construction, so 2014 is shaping up to be on par with an average building year in Lawrence.
One area of the Lawrence construction industry that has been below average is single-family home construction. City officials have issued permits for 65 single-family homes thus far in 2014. During the same period a year ago, the city had issued 121 single-family permits. At this point, that number should be of some concern. At 65 permits, single-family home construction is below the pace in 2011, when the city hit a new low for single-family permits issued. In fact, this year’s construction is significantly below that pace. Through September of 2011, the city had issued 76 single-family permits, or about 17 percent more than this year’s total. We’ll see what the final three reports of the year bring, but builders will need to start 30 new homes before the end of the year to avoid setting a new low.
As for when Menards and Sprouts may open, Menards officials previously have said they expect construction to take about 10 months. I suspect that will be pretty dependent upon the weather cooperating this season. Sprouts officials have not said when they expect to open, but it is a significantly smaller project than the Menards store, so I think it might be the first to open.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we are talking about construction projects near Sixth and Wakarusa, I know some of you have been wondering what the construction is on a pad site just east of the Walmart store. As we previously have reported, plans filed with the city say it is a medical office building. But I haven’t yet had any luck confirming what type of medical professional plans to locate there.
• While we are on the subject of specialty grocery stores, I will tell you I’m hearing the same things about Trader Joe’s that some of you are: Some employees of the Leawood store have been telling Lawrence customers that Trader Joe’s may soon come to Lawrence. I called over to Trader Joe’s and tried to get an official there to tell me the same thing, but she stopped short of that. She said there’s been talk around the store of such a project, but no announcements or anything that indicates that the idea is more than just talk, at the moment.
But it is worth keeping an eye on. As we have previously reported, the large retail project proposed for the area south of the Iowa Street and SLT interchange has drawn strong interest from a specialty grocer, the development group for the proposed project has said. I don’t have any insight into whether the grocer is Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or some other player.
• And while we’re talking about numbers, here’s one last set of them: monthly job totals for the Lawrence metro area. Putting stock in one month’s worth of numbers is never too wise (as a set of lottery numbers from my fortune teller proved), but recently we reported that Lawrence in August had the highest job growth of any metro area in the country.
So, I wanted to see how September’s numbers came in for Lawrence. The latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the numbers aren’t the best in the country, but they aren’t too bad. The report found the number of jobs in Lawrence and Douglas County grew by 1.5 percent — or 800 jobs — in September, compared with September 2013. That was better than the 0.7 percent average for Kansas as a whole. Lawrence ended up having the second highest job growth rate of any metro area in the state, although it is worth noting that the numbers are still preliminary.
— Manhattan: 2.1 percent
— Lawrence: 1.5 percent
—Topeka: 1.2 percent
— Kansas City, Kan./Mo: 0.5 percent
— Wichita: 0.3 percent
Lawrence also is outperforming the state when it comes to its unemployment rate. Lawrence’s unemployment rate in September was 4 percent, which is down from 4.7 percent in September 2013. That’s a significant drop. Lawrence’s unemployment rate in September was better than the statewide average of 4.4 percent, and tied Manhattan for the lowest unemployment rate of any metro area in the state.
As for Lawrence having the fastest job growth rate of any metro area in the country in August, hopefully you can get a refund on the 15-foot plaque you had ordered for the occasion. As we reported last month, the August numbers were preliminary. The August numbers have now been finalized, and Lawrence’s job growth total were adjusted downward a bit. The new figures show Lawrence jobs grew by 4.6 percent instead of the 5.9 percent originally thought.
That adjustment was enough to drop Lawrence from the No. 1 spot. Midland, Texas, topped us, and a few other cities may have as well. But the 4.6 percent figure was still a very strong showing for the local economy.
Burger King begins work to reopen on Sixth Street; Menards receives building permit from city; large apartment project near KU lacks financing
It really is safe for all of us to get out our bibs, our paper crowns, our mobile thrones and all the other accoutrements required for a proper trip to Burger King. The Burger King on Sixth Street is going to reopen. Really.
There have been a few false starts and false hopes when it comes to the reopening of the Burger King at 1107 W. Sixth St., which has been closed since August 2013 because of a fire on the roof. Burger King officials previously had told me they expected the store to open sometime in April. But that date came and went, and I began to feel a tad silly arriving at the empty restaurant each morning in my crushed velvet bathrobe and scepter. And my son certainly was getting tired of wearing the jester’s outfit.
But Burger King officials now tell me they have everything they need to begin the project, and hiring for the store has begun. I’m more confident than I have been that the store is indeed on the path to reopening because City Hall officials have confirmed they’ve issued the project a building permit. There also appears to be work crews at the site.
“We have the building permit, and we’re ready to start throwing hammers and stuff,” said Lance Zach, regional manager for Burger King.
Zach said he hopes to have the store reopened by the end of October. I’m not sure I would write that date in stone just yet because there is a significant amount of remodeling that will be done at the site. Zach said the store will end up looking a lot more like the modern Burger King that is near Sixth and Wakarusa. The inside also will have a more modern look, with a lot more emphasis on areas for people to use their wireless devices while they dine. (That is good because the King needs to be in constant communication to deal with important matters in the realm, such as his kingdom’s fantasy football team.)
As for why the project has taken so long, I’m not entirely sure. Zach said he wasn’t either but is just happy to be moving forward. My understanding is that it may have taken the restaurant longer than anticipated to get its insurance check after the fire, and then the building permit process has taken quite a bit longer. City officials confirmed they received the application in March. There are always two sides to these types of stories about delays from City Hall. The city really doesn’t have a motive to unnecessarily delay a project, and sometimes projects are more complicated than property owners envision. For example, this property was old enough that I think it has to make some changes to its parking lot, and that type of work triggers a review from the Kansas Department of Transportation to review the property’s entrance onto Sixth Street, which also is U.S. Highway 40.
Regardless, the project is on the move, and Zach said the company is conducting interviews for restaurant positions each Wednesday. Zach said he plans to hire six to seven managers for the location, and a crew of about 40 people. Interviews are taking place at Burger King’s other two Lawrence locations, which are near Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive and in North Lawrence. Look for information on the interview process at the stores.
“We’re comfortable with where we’re headed with this now,” Zach said. “I’m glad because I couldn’t walk through this town without somebody asking me about it.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• City officials also have confirmed they’ve issued a building permit for the Menards home improvement center near 31st and Iowa streets. I don’t have word from Menards officials about when the store may open, but they previously have said construction should take nine to 10 months. Depending on how much the winter slows them down, I would say it is a good bet that the store will be open by the time the 2015 holiday shopping season rolls around.
It will be interesting to watch the project come out of the ground. It also will be interesting to watch whether Menards’ neighbor, Home Depot, makes any effort to expand its store. As construction begins at Menards, it will become obvious how much bigger Menards will be than the Home Depot store. According to documents filed at City Hall, Menards will have about 250,000 square feet of space under the roof. Home Depot has about 94,000 square feet. In addition, Menards will have an outdoor lumber yard that is about 150,000 square feet. If you remember, Home Depot wanted a larger store, but was unable to win approval from the City Commission in the early 2000s for the project.
• There is news — or at least questions — about one other large project in town. It is still not clear when or if work will begin on a major apartment/retail building planned for a site across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium.
At Tuesday evening’s meeting, city commissioners delayed taking action on a requested parking variance for a proposed multi-story building that will have about 240 apartments with a total of about 625 bedrooms. The developers want to reduce the required parking for the project by 100 spaces, which would leave the project with fewer parking spaces than there are bedrooms in the project. Commissioners said they wanted more information, such as how many students bring cars to campus, before they act on the request.
But what did become clear at Tuesday’s meeting is that the Chicago-based development group proposing the project doesn’t have the financing in place to build it.
“We have had several capital sources tell us they are not interested,” said Jim Heffernan, a manager with HERE Kansas LLC.
The project already has received from city commissioners — on a 3-2 vote — a 10-year, 85 percent property tax rebate. But Heffernan told commissioners that even with that incentive, the city’s parking requirements have made it difficult for the project to pencil out from a financial perspective.
Heffernan didn’t directly say whether the project would be discontinued if the parking exemption isn’t granted, but it is becoming clear that the project is still in a pretty speculative stage.
• One other last note: Mark your calendars for Thursday evening, if you are interested in the police headquarters issue. The city will host a forum from 7 to 8 p.m. at the police’s Investigations and Training Center at 4820 Bob Billings Parkway. A second forum sponsored by the city will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. Oct. 16, also at the Investigations and Training Center.
Also worth putting on your calendar is an event to be hosted by the Voter Education Coalition. The group plans to hold a forum from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Lawrence Public Library. My understanding is that forum will have representatives from both the advocacy group and opposition group that have formed around this issue. The two forums hosted by the city mainly will feature the chief of police and city commissioners.
The first neighborly dispute between Menards and Home Depot; city set to increase water and sewer rates
Don't get your tool belt all in a bunch. The proposed Menards store near 31st and Iowa streets indeed is still on track to happen, even though it has been a year since the project was approved and construction still hasn't begun.
I know the delay has some of you fidgeting like you've dropped fiberglass insulation down your knickers. But, really, Menards is oh so close to pulling a building permit for the project.
First, though, there is a little matter of a handyman fight. (And I'm not talking about two men in sweat-soaked flannel in the middle of 31st Street using tape measures as light sabers. Really, I'm not talking about that. My attorney said to take the Fifth.)
In case you hadn't noticed, Home Depot is right next door to the proposed Menards site. At their Tuesday evening meeting, city commissioners will hear from the Chicago-based development group that owns the Home Depot site. The development group is not pleased with the proposed site plan for Menards because it looks like a stormwater issue would limit the ability of Home Depot to expand, if it chose to do so in the future.
The next time you go to Home Depot, notice that there is quite a bit of open land just to the east of the store. Part of the land is used to temporarily detain stormwater runoff before it is released into nearby Naismith Creek. Once Menards is built, the stormwater will run to the Home Depot detention site, then to the Menards detention site, and then to Naismith Creek. The group that owns the Home Depot site would like for it to run directly to the Menards detention site. That would then provide flexibility for additional development to occur on the Home Depot site.
"Certainly there are a couple of acres of land there that could be developed," said Dan Watkins, the Lawrence attorney for the Chicago development company.
The group that owns the Home Depot site thought it had a deal worked out with Menards, but that has fallen through. City commissioners will have to decide whether to force Menards to make the stormwater change. The city's planning staff is recommending against forcing the change because they cannot find any code language that requires it.
Whether any of this is a sign that Home Depot would like to expand in Lawrence isn't clear, but you could understand why it would want to. I'm not sure the average Joe understand how much larger Menards is going to be than Home Depot.
According to the documents filed at City Hall, Menards will have about 250,000 square feet of space under roof. Home Depot has about 94,000 square feet of building. In addition, Menards will have an outdoor lumber yard that is about 150,000 square feet.
If you have been in Lawrence for the last 15 years or so, you know that Home Depot didn't want to build its store this small. But city officials in the early 2000s, had quite a debate about how much retail development should be allowed at that corner. The current configuration of Home Depot and the adjacent Best Buy is the compromise that emerged.
But that was then and this is now, and don't think that the Home Depot folks haven't noticed.
"There was a big change in City Hall policy when they allowed Menards," Watkins said.
Indeed, there is going to be a lot more retail near the 31st and Iowa intersection. In addition to Menards, the latest site plan shows a concept that would accommodate seven other retail buildings. The plan doesn't get specific on how big those buildings could be, but based on the amount of parking set aside for the various lots, it appears three of the buildings could be about 20,000 to 30,000 square feet in size. Those could accommodate significant national retailers. The other four buildings shown on the plan are smaller buildings sized for restaurant or specialty retailers.
Tenants for those buildings haven't been found yet, and Menards has said they won't build any of the buildings on speculation. Menards has enough to do to get its own building constructed. The good news on that front is that planning department officials tell me that this site plan issue is really the last item to resolve before a building permit can be issued. Menards already has filed for the building permit, so it is possible that one could be issued in the next few days.
Previously, Menards officials have said it will take about nine to 10 months to build the store.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I don't know about your neighborhood, but in mine this is the time of year when approximately 15 dozen kids use a lawn sprinkler to turn my backyard into a high-speed water slide. (Just like a certain water park in K.C., I would prefer not to talk about what happened to our test dummies.)
Well, in Lawrence, you may want to start charging admission to such backyard fun. Water and sewer rates are both set to go up. As we reported in May, commissioners gave preliminary approval to a new rate plan. At their Tuesday evening meeting, commissioners are set to give final approval and order city officials to begin collecting the higher rates in November.
How much your water and sewer bill will increase depends on who you are. Here's a look at some common scenarios:
— A single-family house that uses 4,000 gallons of water per month will see an increase of $2.62 per month, or a 4.9 percent increase over existing rates.
— A single family house that uses 20,000 gallons per month will see an increase of $11.26 per month, an increase of 5.4 percent.
— An apartment resident who uses 4,000 gallons of water per month will see an increase of 86 cents per month, an increase of 1.8 percent.
— A business that uses 100,000 gallons of water per month will see an increase of $61.56 per month, an increase of 6.9 percent.
— An industrial user that uses 2.5 million gallons of water per month will see an increase of $1,201 per month, an increase of 5.7 percent.
The rate increases will fund a variety of projects, including about $5.8 million worth of improvements to address taste and odor issues that occur in the city's drinking water when algae levels are high at Clinton Lake or the Kansas River.
The higher rates come at a time when other increases are expected to find property owners. The city already has predicted the 2015 budget will include at least a 1.5 mill increase in the city's property tax rate. Black Hills Energy, the predominant natural gas provider in the city, is asking state regulators to approve new rates that would increase the average residential bill by at least $5.70 per month, but likely more depending on how much gas you use. Still unresolved is what new sales or property taxes city commissioners may propose to fund a new police headquarters building. Plus, the county and the school districts may have their own needs for additional funding that could affect taxes.
It is not as much fun as what we did with the test dummy, but let's do some quick math to see what the average person may be facing thus far:
— Property taxes on a $170,000 home: Up $29 a year.
— Average 6,000 gallon water and sewer bill: Up $44 a year.
— Minimum Black Hills natural gas increase: Up $68.
That's an increase of $141 for the year, or a little less than $12 per month. Again, though, this doesn't include anything for the police department or other taxing jurisdictions. Plus, I think it is possible that when the city's recommended budget is released in the coming days that it will include a property tax increase greater than 1.5 mills.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.
Maybe Menards has gotten busy plowing a garden, building a potpourri room or connecting a back-up generator to the chocolate fountain. I know those are all projects that have caused me delay in completing the real work I would like to get done around the house. So, maybe that's why work hasn't yet started on a new Menards store near 31st and Iowa streets.
Whatever the case, construction work hasn't started and doesn't appear likely to start in the next few weeks. But a Menards official told me in recent days the store project is still moving forward, and I tend to believe him because Menards has actually purchased all the property needed for the development. If there were a chance they weren't going to build the store, I think it would be more likely they simply would have the ground under option to purchase.
But I don't have a good explanation on why it is taking this much time to get the project started. As a reminder, Menards won its zoning approval from the City Commission in June. At that point, the project just became a matter of a few technical approvals before a building permit could be issued.
"Nothing is changing," said Tyler Edwards, the Menards official who has been securing the approvals for the Lawrence project. "We're just getting through all the little technical details."
A planning department official told me that is the case. The department is waiting to receive the public improvement plans for the project. Those are the plans that show the designs and other technical specifications of streets, utility lines, storm sewers and other pieces of infrastructure. I've been told by city officials that there are no big challenges that Menards faces with those plans. Rather, the city simply is waiting to receive them so that they can be reviewed. In other words, I don't think it is the city that is holding this project up.
That being said, it will take a little bit of time for city officials to review the necessary plans before a building permit can be issued. These things vary, but it easily could take four weeks from the time the plans are received to the time they are reviewed and approved by the various departments. So those of you, like me, who thought Menards would surely want to get started this spring, may be wrong.
I couldn't get Edwards to offer a date — or a season — when construction is likely to begin on the project. (He, too, evidently has read the essential guide for married handymen, "I'll $%!# Get to It, Dear." Rule No. 3: Never, ever, ever commit to a date. If you are pressured, immediately begin talking about an idea you have to remove a wall, and that usually will result in a subject change.)
Edwards previously has said the store likely will take nine to 10 months to build. One would think Menards would want to be open by next spring to take advantage of all the home improvement purchases that happen during that season. If so, it would seem construction would need to start in the next two to three months. But, as I've been told on many a home improvement project, I should leave the thinking to someone else.
If you remember, the last news we reported on the project was that the design of the store had been changed. Most significantly, Menards changed the location of its outdoor lumberyard and reduced it size from 90,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet. The speculation is that was done to allow for more room for other retailers on the development site. In addition to Menards, there is room for about a half dozen other buildings. But the reduction in lumberyard space has caused some to worry that Menards has decided to put in a scaled-down store in Lawrence. But Edwards insisted that wasn't the case, although I didn't get any details about why Menards decided to make the changes.
"It will be a 100 percent normal Menards," Edwards said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Lawrence Memorial Hospital has landed on another best-of list. This time the financial healthcare website NerdWallet Health has ranked LMH as the third-most affordable hospital in the state of Kansas. The website says it ranked 54 Kansas hospitals based the 100 most common procedures performed at hospitals. It got its cost information from CMS Medicare Provider Charge Data.
The results found that Galichia Heart Hospital in Wichita was ranked No. 1 in affordability, while Topeka's St. Francis Health Center was ranked No. 2. LMH was No. 3. In terms of other area hospitals in the Top 10, Olathe Medical Center was No. 7 and Shawnee Mission Medical Center was No. 10.