Leader of Alvamar says speculation of pending sale of club and golf course incorrect; preparations for Final Four begin to show up around town
When it comes to golf and rumors, I have been involved in several, and I'm proud to say I have never once been convicted of criminal damage to property. (Best golf tip I ever received: Never use a monogrammed golf ball.) So, I thought I should do my part to clear up a rumor floating around about Alvamar Golf & Country Club. A sale is not imminent, and neither is a plan that would eliminate nine holes of the 36-hole complex in West Lawrence.
"There is a lot of speculation about what people think they could do with Alvamar and some infill development," said Bob Johnson, chairman of the board of directors of Alvamar Inc. "But I know there are not plans to do away with even one of the 36 holes of golf that we have out there."
Johnson said rumors that a local developer is close to purchasing the country club and golf course also aren't true. When asked whether such a deal had been put on the back burner, Johnson said, "it is not even in the kitchen."
But it is no secret that the course and club have been available for purchase, by the right buyer. Johnson said that is still the case, mainly because the approximately 100 shareholders of Alvamar Inc. are generally in retirement age and believe a transition needs to be made.
"We are interested in selling, but we are equally interested in making sure the new ownership is committed to the community and the university," Johnson said.
Alvamar's country club course is home base for KU's golf program.
Johnson didn't provide any insight into why speculation about Alvamar's future has increased lately. For what it is worth, the speculation I had heard was connected to the talk going around town about convention centers and potential partnerships with Kansas University.
"I can tell you that we're not any closer or any more active on the sale front than we have been in the last year or so," Johnson said. "Nobody is close to buying it."
Johnson also made a point to note that Alvamar Inc., which in addition to owning the country club also owns significant amounts of raw ground in West Lawrence, doesn't need to sell the course for financial reasons. Johnson said the market for development ground is clearly rebounding in Lawrence, and Alvamar Inc.'s financial position is strong.
In other news and notes from around town:
• With KU ready to play its first Big 12 tourney game today, we are officially in March Madness. While the games are just getting started, the planning for the ultimate madness — if KU reaches the Final Four — is well underway. As they have in past years, city commissioners have approved an ordinance creating special rules for glass bottles and containers in the downtown area during the Elite Eight and Final Four time periods of the NCAA tournament.
From Saturday, March 29 to Monday March 31, anyone caught with a glass bottle or other glass container on downtown streets or sidewalks will be subject to a $100 fine. That's the weekend teams will play in the Elite Eight and punch their ticket to the Final Four with a victory. Such victories by the Jayhawks have been known to cause thousands of people to flood downtown for a massive street party. The same regulations will be in place the following week from Saturday April 5 to Tuesday April 8, which is when the Final Four and National Championship game will be held.
Walking around with a beer bottle on Massachusetts Street generally subjects you to a possible open container violation. But honestly, during Final Four celebrations, the open container violations often are too many to keep up with. But city officials do work hard to limit glass containers because of the safety hazards they can create. Many bars and restaurants often help out by serving even bottled beer in plastic cups during the time period.
The other March Madness preparation that happens around this time is that T-shirt companies start staking out their location for tents that will sell KU Final Four t-shirts. Lawrence-based Sun Creation has filed permits for 2300 Louisiana, which is the parking lot of Checkers, and 601 Kasold Drive, which is the Westlake Hardware parking lot. More will follow, if KU's fortunes are good.
Now, all we need is some vendor who is selling magic Joel Embid Back Cream. We'll let you set up anywhere you want.
• After you get done watching KU vs Oklahoma State, which tips off at 2 p.m. today, come over for a fun evening of the Lawrence City Commission and rental licensing discussions. You don't even need to take off your Crimson and Blue face paint, your Beak 'Em Hawks house slippers, and that giant Jayhawk tail feather. (I assume we're all wearing that again this year.) Commissioners will host a pubic information session from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Lawrence High School cafeteria, 1901 Louisiana.
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Burger King on Sixth Street hopes to open within eight weeks; more details on proposed rental inspection program
Of all the days to misplace my three-foot long trumpet . . . here goes anyway. Hear ye, hear ye: The King lives. The King lives. The King lives. Let us rejoice with Whoppers, fries, and copious amounts of breakfast sandwiches in defiance of the witch doctors known as cardiologists. (This would have sounded much better with the trumpet.)
Regardless, I'm obviously referring to the Burger King at 1107 W. Sixth St. If you remember, it has been closed since a fire significantly damaged it on Aug. 12. The delay in reopening the facility has caused some to worry that the days of Burger King at that location may be over. No need to worry about that, says Lance Zach, regional manager for the Burger King franchise. Zach said he hopes to have the store open in about six to eight weeks.
"It is a popular location in Lawrence," Zach said. "We're anxious to get rolling on it."
Zach said delays with insurance payments related to the fire have been the big holdup in getting the restaurant remodeled and reopened. But Zach said those issues appear now to be settled. He said officials have determined that an electrical connection in a can light in the dining room caused the fire.
Zach said some construction work had taken place on the site earlier, but that was just to gut the building. He said the remodeling plans have now been filed with the city and are awaiting a building permit. Plans call for a new look on the inside and the outside. Zach said the exterior will look more like the relatively new Burger King in the Bauer Farms development near Sixth and Wakarusa. The inside also will have a more modern look, and will feature a countertop area where people can plug in their computers and other electronic devices.
Zach said the location receives a good amount of university-related business, and area customers have been pretty vocal in their support for reopening. I know I have gotten numerous calls inquiring about the store's future.
"You think you get calls," Zach told me. "I probably get that question three or four times a day when I'm in Lawrence."
Zach said the store is currently interviewing for new staff members, and expects to begin training new employees at the other two Lawrence locations in the next couple of weeks. He said the store will hire about 25 employees, including seven managerial positions. People can apply at work4BK.com
Now, the trumpet. What the . . . how did it get in my neighbor's Dumpster?
In other news and notes from around town:
• I'm not sure that there will be trumpets involved, but the most recent list of land transactions in Douglas County has an interesting buyer on it. Country Jam USA Inc. has purchased about 3 acres of property at 1129 East 1264 Road — which is south of Lawrence, just south and west of the County Route 458 and U.S. Highway 59 intersection.
I don't think the company is in the business of making good strawberry jam, for instance, although that would be a fantastic development (despite the fact my wife won't let the kids and I eat anything sticky in the house anymore). Instead, our friend Mr. Google tells us that there is a Country Jam USA that is in the business of hosting outdoor music concerts. It looks like it currently has sites in Grand Junction, Colo. and Eau Claire, Wisc. Whether this is the same company that bought the Douglas County property, I can't say for sure, but it seems like a reasonable bet.
I wouldn't be too quick to jump to any conclusions about what the company has in mind in Lawrence. For one, there's been nothing filed at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning office for the address. In other words, no special permits have been sought to have a concert on the site. For another, the property is in a rural subdivision with several homes nearby. I would think Willie Nelson would have a better chance of landing a Gillette razor sponsorship than a concert company being allowed to host an event in a rural neighborhood. And finally, the site is only 3 acres and it has a house. So, it is possible that an owner of Country Jam USA simply wants to have a house in rural Douglas County. I called the company yesterday, but haven't received a call back.
But, the property transfer list is published in the newspaper, and I figured the name might catch the eye of some other folks as well, so I wanted to tell you what I knew about it. I'll let you know if I hear more.
• Get ready for some noise at Lawrence City Hall. Commissioners are scheduled on March 25 to vote on the latest proposal for an expanded rental licensing and inspection program that would basically cover every rental unit in the city.
As we have reported, Commissioner Jeremy Farmer has come up with a new proposal that seeks to limit the types of violations that could be used to deny a landlord a rental license. He's talked in broad terms about how the rental licensing program should be limited to issues that are of an immediate threat to health and safety. But he also has said city inspectors should have the ability to cite landlords for other types of violations, if the inspectors note them while conducting the rental licensing inspection. The big difference would be those other types of violations — think unpainted siding, for example — couldn't be used to deny a landlord a rental license. A rental license will become very important under this new system. Without a license, a landlord can't offer the unit for rent.
Now we have the list of specific violations Farmer has in mind. There are 27 violations that could cause a landlord to not receive a rental license. Here's a list of the 27 violations. (They're the ones at the top.) They include items such as: missing windows; exterior doors without locks; badly leaking roofs; issues of structural integrity; missing handrails; missing or nonworking smoke detectors; improper venting of furnaces, water heaters and dryers; a host of electrical issues; over occupancy of tenants; and several others.
Farmer, however, also has provided a list of 42 other violations, as an example of what inspectors may be looking for over and above the city's rental licensing program. If units are found to have these violations, they won't be used against the landlord license application, but the landlord could face a fine or other enforcement action if the violations aren't corrected. You can see that list here. (Scroll to the end.)
I hope to have more on the details of Farmer's proposal later today.
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The number of the day is $125 million. No, it only seems like the price of a dozen roses for those of us just now remembering that today is Valentine's Day.
Instead, a new state report indicates $125 million is the amount of taxable sales that occurred in Lawrence during the heart of the Christmas shopping season. That means Lawrence retailers had a pretty fair Christmas season
The latest sales tax report measures sales for the period of mid-November to mid-December. The $125 million in sales is up about 5 percent from the same period a year ago.
The $125 million does capture some spending that is not what you would call traditional holiday retail spending. For instance it includes the sales tax you pay on your utility bills. (Although, that's kind of holiday related. Christmas is the one day of the year my wife lets the kids and me turn the thermostat up to 65 degrees.) But the majority of the $125 million are retail sales — everything from purchases at the grocery store to the jewelry store.
While a 5 percent increase for the season is solid, it is not spectacular. Over the previous three holiday seasons, the average increase has been 6.4 percent. If retailers feel like this year didn't quite have the same zing as past seasons, that may be what they're feeling. In fact, over the last six seasons, sales during the holiday period have grown by more than 6 percent every year but one. That one year, however, was a doozy. At the end of 2009, holiday shoppers clamped onto their wallets like my kids clamp onto their Valentine's Day candy stashes. Taxable sales for the season fell 13.2 percent. So, that makes 5 percent look a little better.
Here's a look at how Lawrence's totals stacked up with some other large retail markets across the state:
• Dodge City: down 8.5 percent
• Emporia: up 4.8 percent
• Garden City: down 5.5 percent
• Hays: down 27.7 percent
• Hutchinson: down 4.6 percent
• Junction City: down 0.4 percent
• Kansas City: up 2 percent
• Leawood: up 5.2 percent
• Lenexa: up 4.4 percent
• Manhattan: up 0.9 percent
• Olathe: up 0.1 percent
• Ottawa: up 1.3 percent
• Overland Park: up 1.3 percent
• City of Shawnee: up 4 percent
• Topeka: down 0.6 percent
• Sedgwick County: up 1.5 percent
These numbers are just for a one-month period, so you should use caution in interpreting them. But it appears shoppers in many locations slowed down this holiday season. Lawrence retailers may have reason to feel lucky as 2014 gets underway.
Which is more than I can say about myself, if my banker doesn't lend me money for some roses by the end of the day.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Look for March to be a key month to determine the fate of the city's proposed rental licensing and inspection program. The program, which would expand the city's limited inspection program to all rental units in the city, has been on hold since Commissioner Jeremy Farmer in late January said he wasn't ready to vote on the program.
Farmer said he wanted more data about how the city's current rental inspection program, which covers only rental units in single-family neighborhoods, has performed. The data from the city should be available soon, and Farmer said he then anticipates hosting a public forum to discuss the program in early March.
At that forum, Farmer hopes to have a compromise plan to talk about. He confirmed this week that he's been talking with both supporters and opponents of a rental licensing and inspection program. Details of a possible compromise are a bit sparse at the moment, but Farmer previously has said he had some interest in removing some violations that aren't related to life and safety from the inspection list. For example, rotting siding or an overgrown yard may not produce a violation that would prohibit a landlord from getting a rental license for a property. But inspectors would still note those violations of the city's code and could take appropriate enforcement action. The main difference is that the city couldn't deny a landlord a license over such violations. That's important because in the future landlords will have to have a license for every unit they intend to rent.
Again, Farmer hasn't released the details of the compromise yet, so we'll see if that is the path it is still on. Farmer, though, did make it clear that he is intent on passing a licensing and inspection program.
"This public meeting that we'll have will not be to talk about whether rental registration is a good idea or not," Farmer said. "We're way past that point."
"I don't think we are too far away from a really, really good compromise, though," Farmer said.
Farmer said he hopes to be ready to vote on the issue "in the next month."
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Firehouse Subs set to open in late January near 31st and Iowa; city set to spend nearly $1 million for new trash truck facility
If you are like me and you enjoy using phrases like "hook and ladder," "lug that hose," and "let's slide down the pole," you won't have to wait long until there's a Lawrence restaurant where you can impart such gems of wisdom.
As we briefly mentioned earlier this week, Lawrence is getting its first Firehouse Subs franchise, and the company now has confirmed to me that it plans to open on Jan. 24. The sandwich shop is set to go into a portion of the long vacant building that is in front of Home Depot at 31st and Iowa streets.
As the name suggests, the business will have a definite firefighter theme, and not just on its menu. The restaurants are full of firefighting memorabilia, and the Lawrence location will have a mural of firefighters battling the 1991 blaze that burned Hoch Auditorium on the KU campus.
The menu also will have a firehouse feel. Firefighters are in the business of dealing with heat, and apparently that extends to their sandwiches. Most of the restaurant's sandwiches are steamed, hot sandwiches. They come with names like the Hook and Ladder, the Firehouse Meatball, the Engineer and the New York Steamer, which features a couple of meats that don't always make the cut at a Midwest sandwich shop: corned beef and pastrami. And the restaurant gives you at least one other chance to talk like a firefighter. If you want the works on a sandwich — all the mustard, mayo and veggies — you call that "fully involved."
The Lawrence restaurant is being opened by a pair of brothers, Christian and Trevor Smith. Christian said he had been looking for an opportunity to move to Lawrence for several years, after living in Manhattan. He said the 31st Street location was appealing because activity is sure to pick up in the area as Menards and other retailers build along the 31st Street corridor.
He said he also thinks the restaurant's concept is going to help it stand out in the market.
"It really is not a themed restaurant," Christian said. "It really is the heritage of the brothers who started the first restaurant."
The restaurant is a bit unique in that it prominently promotes its nonprofit foundation that provides funding to fire departments and public safety organizations across the country. The restaurant sells unique buckets that their pickles come in for $2 apiece. All that money goes to the nonprofit Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. Since 2005, the foundation has raised $8.3 million.
In other news and notes from around town, there's a lot on the Lawrence City Commission's Tuesday agenda. I'll get you more details on many of these in the near future, but here's a quick look:
• The sights and sounds of trash trucks soon may be less common in East Lawrence. City commissioners will consider signing a contract to buy about 10 acres of property in the Santa Fe Industrial park north of the Kansas Turnpike to house a new solid waste facility. That means all the trash trucks that currently are housed at 11th and Haskell would move to the new location, which is right next to the large Kmart Distribution Center. No word yet on how the city may use its property at 11th and Haskell in the future. The city is proposing to pay $995,000 for the site, which includes a 9,200 square foot building, which has been used by the Koch Trucking Co.
• Navigating the 900 block of New Hampshire Street may get a little more difficult this winter. Crews that are constructing the multistory hotel at the southeast corner of the intersection are now asking for a good portion of the block to be entirely closed to traffic until March 1. Currently, only the northbound lane of New Hampshire is closed from Ninth Street to the mid-block crosswalk that leads to the Lawrence Arts Center. The new proposal would close both the north and southbound lanes of traffic from Ninth to the crosswalk. The extra space is needed for a crane and a loading area. Commissioners will consider the request at their Tuesday evening meeting.
• The city's latest draft ordinance to create a rental licensing and inspection program is now available for the public to review. Click here to see all the details. There is a lot to wade through there, and I'll provide a more detailed report later. But even a quick glance shows that staff members are not recommending an idea by Commissioner Jeremy Farmer to place informational placards in every rental unit in the city. The placards would have had contact information on how tenants could request a city inspection of their property at any time. Instead, staff members are recommending an educational campaign that involves sending letters to every rental unit each September. Commissioners won't take any action or discuss the proposed ordinance at Tuesday's meeting. Instead, the issue is scheduled to be discussed at their Feb. 4 meeting.