Posts tagged with Menards
Strap on your tool belt, it is time to talk again about Menards’ proposal to build a big box store just east of Home Depot near 31st and Iowa streets.
The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will debate the project again at its Monday evening meeting. The Planning Commission debated it last month and failed to reach consensus on whether the plan should be recommended for approval by the City Commission. I know that left some of you feeling like I feel after completing an electrical-oriented home improvement project — a bit dazed. (My wife promised me she had turned off the circuit breaker. She never said she wouldn’t turn it back on, though.)
If you remember, the Menards project hit a snag, even though there was no groundswell of opposition from neighbors in the area. Instead, it was the city’s planning staff that expressed concern about changing a portion of the city’s comprehensive plan, known as Horizon 2020, to accommodate the project.
There have been some new developments on that front. The city’s planning staff hasn’t officially changed its recommendation for denial, but it has created a new staff report that provides a clear set of reasons Planning Commissioners can use to approve the project, if they so choose.
That may prove to be important. For what it is worth, I felt like the Planning Commission last month was interested in recommending the project for approval, but was reluctant to do so because they hold the planning staff’s professional opinion in high regard.
The new memo from the planning staff, however, makes it clear that there is a reasonable argument to be made for why Horizon 2020 could be changed to accommodate the project. The main point of contention here is that Horizon 2020 calls for the proposed Menards site, the former Gaslight Mobile Home Village, to be used for apartment development in the future. A map in Horizon 2020 needs to be changed to show the property is slated for commercial development.
The memo lists the following reasons why a change could be prudent:
• It is now clear the eastern leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway will be completed, which will alleviate the need for traffic to travel through neighborhoods to reach the new commercial area.
• Public testimony from neighbors has indicated that there is a significant number of residents who may prefer retail development at the site rather than a large apartment complex.
• Even though the city has other retail zoned areas in the city, sites that can accommodate big-box development remain limited.
Planning staff members also are pointing out that it is unlikely that commercial development would extend all the way down the north side of 31st Street to Louisiana Street, if Menards is approved. Staff members confirmed the city is close to finalizing a deal to purchase the nearly six acres of property near the northwest corner of 31st and Louisiana streets. The city needs the property for a new utility pump station. City ownership means the corner wouldn’t ever develop as a retail site.
So we’ll see what planning commissioners do on Monday. That meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.
But remember, planning commissioners only recommend things. It will be up to the City Commission to make a final decision on the project. It still is too early to tell how city commissioners may vote on this project, but there are indications Menards has a fighting chance.
When I was speaking recently with City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer about economic matters, he brought up the need for the city to really update its comprehensive plan. He pointed to the Menards project as an example. Farmer said much of the underlying work to create the city’s comprehensive plan was done more than 20 years ago, and it probably is time to recognize that several factors in the city have changed since then.
“Menards is a great example of that,” Farmer says. “Our comprehensive plan says no, and the community seems to be saying it doesn’t want more housing there.
“I look at that and say ‘gosh, a Menards would be great in bringing some commercial taxes to a community that is going to have shrinking property tax revenues.'”
So, while Farmer stopped short of saying he would vote for the specific proposal Menards currently has brought forward, it sounds like he’ll have an open mind.
Privately, I have heard one other commissioners indicate he is going to give strong consideration to approving the project as well. It will be interesting to watch. Probably the biggest factor will be whether residents in the Indian Hills Neighborhood continue to either support the project or at least not vigorously oppose it. A large number of neighbors opposing the project could change things.
At the moment though, it is safe to assume the Menards project won’t be dead on arrival when it comes to the City Commission. Which, that reminds me: I still have to rewire the kitchen light. Oh, boy.
Menard’s project highlights city rule on vacant space; a look at how Lawrence ranks in state retail report
Build it, and it will be empty. That's the motto of Lawrence, at least in one way.
City planners will be reminded of that tonight. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will consider a proposal by Menard's, the large home improvement chain, to build a 190,000-square-foot store just east of 31st and Iowa streets. As we previously reported, the city's planning staff is recommending denial of the proposal.
But you may not be aware of one of the reasons the project has received a negative recommendation: When large retail projects are proposed in the city, planners are required to look at a retail market analysis to determine what the city's retail vacancy rate will be after the project is built. The way the rules are written, the vacancy rate is to be calculated by assuming the new project will be 100 percent vacant.
So when city officials do the calculations for this project, they put aside the fact that Menard's has no plans to build a 190,000-square-foot building and then leave it empty. Instead, the city adds the 190,000 square feet of the new store onto the city's estimated amount of vacant square footage, which stood at 643,000 square feet the last time it was calculated, in 2010.
When the city planners add on the 190,000 square feet, that pushes the city's supposed vacancy rate to 8.4 percent from 7 percent — which is just above the 8 percent total that is supposed to be a red flag when it comes to vacancy rates. According to a planning staff report, if you add in the approximately 65,000 square feet of smaller retail space proposed to be built along the outer edges of the Menard's project, the vacancy rate would jump to 9.6 percent.
But the city's planning rules also suggest planners go a step further. The city staff looked at all the retail zoning that currently is in place in the city, but doesn't yet have any buildings on it. That totals about 932,000 additional square feet. The city then makes the assumption that all of that will be built, and then be completely empty. That produces a frightening vacancy rate of 17.8 percent.
Planners, of course, don't think people are going to build large retail buildings without first having a tenant to occupy them. The city's planners understand the city's building market better than most because they are on the front lines of development proposals. But already I have heard people complaining about the city's Planning Department and why it would make this type of assumption. Well, city planners get the thankless job of being a referee in the city's politically charged development arena.
In other words, the job of a planner is to apply the rules to the project — not to rewrite the rules. Rewriting the rules is the job of city commissioners, and the rule that requires the city to assume large new retail buildings are going to be vacant has been on the city's books for at least the past decade.
Its days may be numbered, though. Scott McCullough, the city's planning director, told me the process has begun to change the rule. But it won't reach the City Commission in time to be considered for the Menard's proposal.
The rule change probably will get some opposition as well. There is certainly a group of local citizens that is very convinced the city's retail scene is overbuilt. They argue that even though a new Menard's building won't be empty, the addition of that much retail space in the city will cause an approximate amount of retail square footage elsewhere in the community to go vacant. That theory is how the rule got put in place to begin with.
In other words, the way the city's rules are written right now, retail is assumed to be a zero-sum game. For every one square foot of new retail space that comes into town, you must assume one square foot elsewhere will become vacant. Maybe that is the case in some economic climates. But maybe it isn't the case in other economic conditions.
What's certain is that retail zoning requests are a judgment call. The first round of judging will begin tonight at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, when the Planning Commission meets. Ultimately, city commissioners will make the final decision on the Menard's request.
• One other piece of information that was included in the city staff's report was a mention of a state report that ranks how Lawrence's retail scene is doing compared to other Kansas cities. It is called a “pull factor” report, and it is basically a look at how Lawrence's per capita sales tax collections compared to the statewide average. It is called a pull factor because it is assumed that cities with averages much higher than the state are “pulling” customers from other communities to shop.
It is a perfect statistic for retail developers because it can be manipulated to fit the situation. When the pull factor is low, it can be argued that more retail development is needed in order to stop the amount of Lawrence residents who go outside of the city to shop. When the number is high, it can be presented as evidence that retail demand is high and the market can support additional retail development.
But the numbers are interesting because they do a good job of showing how Lawrence's per capita spending stacks up against other cities. The most recent report, which is for the state's 2012 fiscal year, shows Lawrence's numbers have rebounded. The city's pull factor was 1.07, which means it is 7 percent higher than the statewide average. As recently as 2000, the city's pull factor was .99. Going back farther, the city hit a high-water mark of 1.13 in 2000. So, we're somewhere in the middle of the range but trending upward.
Here's a look at how other large towns in the state fared. I'll leave the analysis up to you: Lenexa: 1.52 Overland Park: 1.51 Salina: 1.47 Garden City: 1.47 Manhattan: 1.40 Leawood: 1.40 Topeka: 1.37 Hutchinson: 1.27 Liberal: 1.23 Dodge City: 1.22 Olathe: 1.18 Pittsburg: 1.13 Junction City: 1.12 Wichita: 1.11 Fort Scott: 1.09 Coffeyville: 1.08 Emporia: 1.08 Lawrence: 1.07 Parsons: 1.05 Shawnee: .93 Atchison: .89 Kansas City: .86 Newton: .87 Leavenworth; .73 Prairie Village: .64
A home improvement center battle in Lawrence is about to begin.
Menards has filed plans at Lawrence City Hall to build a large home improvement center right next to Home Depot near 31st and Iowa streets.
The company — as was previously speculated — wants to locate in the former Gaslight Mobile Home Village.
The retailer has opened new stores in Topeka and Manhattan in recent months. Menards officials said in their application that significant numbers of Lawrence residents have been driving to the Topeka Menards. The retailer sells home improvement items — much like Home Depot or Lowes — but it also has a broader offerings that include home goods and other items.
The plans call for the 41.5 acres to be rezoned from an apartment/multi-family zoning designation to a Planned Commercial Development designation.
Documents included in the submittal indicate Menards is looking to build a 162,340 square foot store, although it isn’t clear whether that number is the size of the building or also includes outdoor storage yards and such.
Either way, it appears the store would be significantly larger than the Home Depot store, which is just west of the proposed site.
The proposal will create a major retail question at City Hall. The city’s long-range planning documents don’t call for the former Gaslight Mobile Home Village to become a retail development. The plans call for it to become an apartment development. (You may remember a Texas-based company proposed a large student apartment complex for the site last year, but then pulled out when it determined the Lawrence market couldn’t support it.) City commissioners will have to decide how much they want to stick to their previous statements that indicated the next area for big box store development should be the intersection of Sixth Street and the SLT, which not coincidentally is where the city and KU are working to build the new Rock Chalk Park sports village.
But Menards officials, in a letter to the city, made it clear they have no interest in that site.
“This site (Sixth and SLT) is very removed from the city’s rooftops and is surrounded by vacant ground on three sides for many miles,” Menards real estate representative Tyler Edwards wrote. “Additionally this site is not visible from the existing retail on Sixth Street due to a large hill. The amount of commercially oriented traffic that would pass by the store on Sixth Street or K-10 would be close to none and not enough to make a successful store.”
The area around the Sixth and SLT site is obviously developing with the Rock Chalk Park project and just last night the city approved the preliminary development plan for The Links, a 630 unit apartment complex that will surround a private nine-hole golf course.
But none of that has been enough to convince Menards that the area will be viable for their store in the near future.
In the past — when Home Depot and Best Buy were built at the 31st and Iowa intersection more than a decade ago — neighbors expressed concern that retail shouldn’t stretch east down 31st Street because of traffic and other issues that could impact nearby neighborhoods.
But with the South Lawrence Trafficway scheduled to start construction later this year, 31st Street will undergo major changes. An entirely new high-capacity street, dubbed 32nd Street, will be built through the nearby Baker Wetlands and connect with the existing 31st Street just east of the proposed Menards site.
This project may be the first one that causes people in the community to realize how much the completion of the SLT and the new U.S. Highway 59 is going to change south Lawrence. In addition to the Menards, the development plan also has room for another 65,000 square feet of retail space spread out over six lots on the site. But documents in the plan indicated those would be part of a Phase II that likely would not begin until a few years after Menards opens.
Menards confirmed it looked at creating a new retail site south of the SLT — basically between the SLT’s Iowa Street bridge and the Wakarusa River — but determined the cost of dealing with the floodplain on the site was prohibitive. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see other retailers look strongly at that site in the future.
In the meantime, expect a lot of discussion about Menards at City Hall. The earliest the development proposal could make it to the Planning Commission is in late April, meaning it will be the next City Commission that decides this issue.
Rumblings of Menards coming to Lawrence may be impacted by retailer’s decision to pull back on Kansas City area expansion, which it blames on Obama
There have been rumblings for awhile that Menards — the home improvement chain — may be giving Lawrence a serious look. Well, here’s a new rumbling that may displease Lawrence folks on a couple of levels.
The Independence, Mo., Examiner is reporting that Menards has put its plans to build a new store in Independence on hold. Furthermore, it said its reason for delaying a store for reasons related to President Obama.
“I’m very sorry, but we are a family-owned business and with the Obama administration scaring the dickens out of all small businesses in the USA at present, we have decided not to risk expansion until things are more settled,” Menards spokesman Jeff Abott told the newspaper in an e-mail on Friday.
Yeah, you heard that right. A spokesman used the word “dickens.” (I wonder if Menards sells dickens, and if they are cheaper there than at Home Depot.)
Regardless, the bigger news is that if Menards is delaying projects they already have announced, then the chances of an announcement happening in Lawrence in the near future seem less likely. Menards has offered no timetable to restart the project.
As a side note, the company’s politicizing of the issue probably won’t go over well with a majority of their potential Lawrence customers, since the city is one of the few in Kansas to come out big to support the president’s re-election.
On Tuesday, Kansas City television station KCTV 5 contacted the Wisconsin-based retailer for more comment, and the spokesman declined to repeat his assertion that the Obama administration played into the decision.
Anyway, I’ll leave those politics to you. I’m busy enough trying to figure out where all these scared dickens have gone.