Perhaps soon there will be brown and black cows in downtown Lawrence. Or maybe a hokie pokie cooler or a lime Ricky. If you have any idea what I’m talking about, you perhaps have spent some time being a jerk — a soda jerk, that is.
Brown and black cows, hokie pokie coolers and lime Rickys are all examples of soda recipes that were served at old-fashioned soda counters that were manned by “soda jerks” who made the concoctions by jerking on the shiny soda fountain handle. In the 1940s and 1950s, nearly every town had at least one of the soda fountains and a cadre of soda jerks to go with them. Today, both soda and jerks are still prevalent, but the combination somehow has faded away.
But, soon enough, downtown Lawrence will have an old-fashioned soda fountain and counter.
You maybe have noticed that Mass Street Soda no longer is located at its longtime home at 11th and Massachusetts streets. The building, which also used to house Englewood Florists (which moved to North Lawrence), is undergoing a major renovation. Mass Street Soda has moved to a new spot at 935 Massachusetts, which is where Jayhawk Spirit previously was.
The 935 Massachusetts location, however, is just a temporary spot for Mass Street Soda. It already has signed a lease to move back to the 11th and Massachusetts location once the renovations are complete. When the business returns — likely in the late spring or early summer of 2018 — it will have an actual soda fountain and counter.
“It will allow us to do fresh soda,” said Lucas Thompson, owner of Mass Street Soda. “We’ll be making our own syrups.”
Currently, the shop just sells bottled soda, but lots of it. The store carries about 1,300 varieties of sodas during the summer, although the number can drop to a mere 900 during the winter, when specialty sodas get a little more difficult to come by.
“It is hard to bring soda in over the winter,” Thompson said. “It freezes during shipments.”
At the moment, the store has only 130 varieties of root beer.
The store will continue to have massive amounts of bottled soda in the future. But Thompson is excited about the soda fountain possibilities. He even recently traveled to New York state to an old pharmacy that still has a soda fountain. He learned a few tricks about making egg creams, which he said kind of taste like a carbonated chocolate milk. (My understanding is that La Prima Tazza, and perhaps some other local coffee shops, have egg creams available currently.)
Plans call for the soda counter to have four types of soda on tap at any given time. The flavors likely will rotate depending on the season. Thompson mentioned incorporating seasonal fruit into some of the recipes.
But don’t get the wrong idea about what type of place this is going to be. Soda counters sound like the type of thing that could get trendy and do to soda what baristas have done to coffee: require you to take out a home equity loan to have a cup.
“It won’t be super fancy or expensive,” Thompson said. “I won’t charge $6 for a cup of soda. It will be $2 or $3 for some soda. Our biggest market is families.” In addition to the locally made soda, Thompson said he’ll also have several other kegs of commercially made soda on tap as well. Expect the shop to have some ice cream available too, in order to facilitate root beer and soda floats.
The new project continues what has been a somewhat surprising run for Mass Street Soda. The business opened in 2014, and Thompson knows many people were wondering how a soda shop would make it in today’s world.
Well, there are lots of people who like soda, and even a larger number who like the idea of finely crafted items. Just as microbreweries have exploded in popularity because of the craft behind their products, some of that is happening in the soda world too.
Thompson now has three soda shops. In addition to the Lawrence store, he has one at The Legends shopping district near the Kansas Speedway and one in the City Market district of Kansas City. Both of those operate under the name KC Soda Co.
He gets his bottled soda from all over the country, and sometimes has to beg for it. He said many of the soda companies are small and produce sodas only a few times per year. They have limited quantities and aren’t always interested in selling to a shop in Kansas. That sometimes requires some unique deal-making skills.
“One guy told me no, and I told him it was my birthday,” Thompson said. “That worked.”
As for the renovations at 11th and Massachusetts, the building’s ownership group includes Lawrence landlord Dalton Paley, who said he and his partners plan to do a significant renovation that really highlights some of the historic character of the building.
I don’t have other details of the renovation. At the moment, I don’t believe the project has a tenant for the former Englewood space at the corner of the project. But Thompson said he thinks the renovation is going to be a game-changer for the 1100 block, which doesn’t get as much foot traffic as other parts of downtown.
“They are completely gutting the building,” Thompson said. “I don’t know everything they are doing, but I’ve seen enough to know it is going to be awesome when it is done.”
For Lawrence homebuilders, the rest of 2013 is gravy, or the icing on the cake, or the cherry on top, or . . . (No, I've got to quit before I eat my keyboard.)
The point is, with three months left in the year, Lawrence homebuilders already had built essentially the same number of houses as they did in all of 2012. The newest building report from Lawrence City Hall shows 122 single-family building permits had been issued through the end of September. For all of 2012, the city issued 123. Thus far, single-family home construction is up 35 percent compared to the same period a year ago.
When you add in duplex construction, the city already has surpassed the 2012 totals. Thus far the city has issued permits for 7 new duplexes compared to just three for all of 2012.
The big question now is whether construction totals will hit the $200 million mark for the year. That's a bit of a stretch goal, but with the latest permit the city has topped the $150 million mark. The city is at $153.4 million during the first nine months, which is up 103 percent for the same period a year ago.
Credit massive projects like Rock Chalk Park, the city's recreation center and the Lawrence Public Library expansion for a good portion of the increase. About 24 percent of all the construction activity in the city, measured by permit value, has been publicly funded projects. Just for comparison's sake, during the same time period in 2011 about 9 percent of all construction in the city was publicly funded and about 5 percent in 2012.
There have been some large private sector projects, though. The Marriott TownPlace Hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire is $13.8 million, the two apartment complexes west of Walmart on Sixth Street total about $17.5 million and renovation work to accommodate more production at the Hallmark Cards plant has totaled about $4.5 million.
We'll see how 2013 finishes and what's in store for 2014. I was surprised to hear a projection recently from an economist at Wichita State University that Lawrence home-building totals would be stagnant or decline slightly in 2014. The economist with the WSU Center for Real Estate told the Lawrence Board of Realtors last week that he thinks the new home construction market may slow a bit because banks are still hesitant to provide financing for homes built on speculation. We'll see.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There's a clear sign that at least one builder in town is expecting good things for the future. A-Team Home Improvement is investing in a new shop and headquarters space. Perhaps you have noticed a significant renovation underway at the old schoolhouse-looking building below the 23rd Street overpass across from Haskell Indian Nations University. A-Team Home Improvement has signed a lease to take over the 1,800-square-foot space at 506 E. 23rd St.
Alan Rector, owner of A-Team, said business has been going well and he jumped at the chance to put his formerly home-based business in a more visible location. Plans call for a good part of the building to be devoted to showroom space for kitchen, bath and other renovation products. Rector hopes to have the project finished by the end of the month.
The renovation project also is giving a bit of a facelift to one of the older buildings along 23rd Street. The building was a school decades ago. It was known as the India School.
• The building is owned by a group led by longtime Lawrence landlord George Paley. Paley has projects all over town, but one that is drawing attention is his plans for the former La Parrilla space at 815 Massachusetts St. (La Parrilla moved up the block, if you recall.) Paley tells me plans are moving along to bring a new restaurant into the space, but he said he's still not at liberty to tell me who the operators will be or what style of restaurant is planned. What I have heard from reliable sources is that a local operator will be involved, but the speculation that the space will house a new venture by Lawrence restaurateur Robert Krause is inaccurate. Perhaps we won't have to wait too much longer to find out. Work is underway at the site.
More LJWorld City Coverage
Development roundup: the Kasold curve, Myers Liquor and more speculation about a downtown restaurant
All the way back in 2009, we told you to keep an eye on the piece of farmland at 31st and Kasold, also known as the Kasold curve, for a new housing development.
Well, your eye is probably getting pretty tired by now, but there are signs once again that a significant housing development may occur on the site.
Paperwork has been filed at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department related to a duplex development that would allow for 126 living units on the just less than 30 acre site at 3309 W. 31st St.
The site also still has property set aside for a new church for Lawrence Wesleyan Church. As we reported back in 2009, a desire for that church to expand is what was driving this whole development scenario. Pastor Nate Rovenstine back then said the church had to purchase a large chunk of property at the curve to secure the site, and was open to parceling part of the area off for private, residential development.
It appears that is still the case. The property already has the proper zoning to allow for duplex development and for the church. Now, it appears, the issue appears to be just how many duplex units the site can accommodate. So, tell your eye to be patient. It is still a corner worth watching.
Speaking of things that have drawn the attention of the eye, some of you have been asking me about the construction work underway at Myers Liquor at 23rd and Alabama streets.
The fact some of you have forgotten surprises me because the project has to do with a drive-thru liquor lane — and normally that is the type of news that Lawrence folks remember.
Back in December, we reported the liquor store was working on a plan to add a drive-thru lane — a first for Lawrence — and also to expand the building by about 1800 feet to accommodate a separate tenant. Well, the construction work underway is proof the plan is coming together. The new space is to the west of the existing liquor store. Owner Christian Walter told me he doesn’t yet have a tenant lined up for the new space, which will about double the amount of retail space on that corner. Walter said he is open to a variety of possible tenants that could be complimentary to the liquor store business. (Just to clarify, that doesn’t mean it has to be liquor-related — although a store that specializes in selling limes and salt would be very convenient.)
Construction work has started now with the hopes of being able to have the bulk of the project completed by the time the KU school year really gets into gear. I’ve heard liquor stores get busy at that time.
While we’re updating items we’ve written about, we might as well tackle one other. Back in May, I mentioned that another restaurant is likely to occupy the space at 814 Massachusetts that formerly was home to La Parilla. La Parilla, of course, has moved to larger space at 724 Massachusetts St.
George Paley, the landlord for the building at 814 Massachusetts., told me recently plans are still on track for a new restaurant to locate in the space. He’s not yet divulging the name of the tenant, but he is squashing one piece of speculation. After our report in May, a few readers started speculating that a diner type of restaurant led by Robert Krause — the high-end chef who founded The Burger Stand — would be moving into the space. Paley told me that is not so. He said Krause isn’t involved with the new restaurant planned for 814 Massachusetts. (That doesn’t mean Krause isn’t moving forward with the concept elsewhere. I don’t know, but will tell you when I do.)
But Paley is very excited about what will be going into his building. He said he thinks it has a chance to be “one of the finer restaurants in the history of Lawrence.” What that means in terms of the type of restaurant it will be, I don’t know. (George doesn’t invite me out for dinner enough.) But when I hear more, I’ll pass it along.