Posts tagged with Retail Sales

Home sales up; housing construction hits recent high; sales tax numbers strong but create some budget worries at City Hall

As a quick homework conversation with my seventh-grade son confirmed, junior high math has surpassed me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still do some calculations to determine the state of the Lawrence economy. So, here’s a look at the latest batch of numbers.

The housing market in Lawrence remains strong. Homes sales through July are up 18 percent, according to a new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. Lawrence home builders are even getting in on the good news. Sales of newly constructed homes are up 21 percent for the year. The newly constructed home market has been one that has been slow to bounce back in Lawrence.

The statistic that shows how hot the Lawrence market is right now has to do with the number of homes on the market. Real estate agents measure how many homes are on the market versus how quickly they are selling. A balanced market between buyers and sellers normally has about four to five months worth of homes on the market at any given time. Currently, there are 1.9 months worth of homes on the Lawrence market. It is a seller’s market right now. Negotiating for a house in Lawrence right now probably would remind me of my efforts to get a date for prom. You have to be prepared to sweeten the offer. (I had to promise we would super size the meal.)

Thus far for the year, the median number of days a home is sitting on the market before it sells is 24. That’s down from 34 at this point in 2014 and 42 in 2013. One other statistic of note: Real estate agents have sold $160 million worth of residential real estate in Lawrence thus far in 2015. That’s up from about $129 million during the same time period a year ago. That’s a nice boost for the Lawrence economy.

The uptick in the home construction market is becoming very clear when you look at the city’s building permit totals. Through July, the city has issued 152 building permits for either single-family or duplex homes. That’s up from 60 such permits at this time last year. It also is well above the recent averages. From 2009 to 2014, the average number of permits at this time of year was 75. My seventh-grade son tells me 152 is more than double the average.

With projects both near campus and in downtown, the apartment construction market also has been strong. The city has issued permits for 431 new living units. Since 2009, the average for this time of year has been around 150 living units. So, there had better be a lot more people wanting to live in Lawrence.

The other big trend is in the building sector is that there have been a lot of big-dollar projects. The city has issued permits for $167 million worth of projects thus far. There have been four projects in 2015 that have checked in at more than $10 million each: the $45 million Here apartment/retail building near the KU campus; an $18 million apartment/office building at Ninth and New Hampshire; $13.3 million in work for the city’s new sewer plant south of the Wakarusa River; and $12 million for a new independent living unit at Pioneer Ridge in west Lawrence.

As we have reported before, we’re on pace to set a new building record in the city. Since 2009, the average amount of construction for this time of year has been $63.5 million. I would tell you how much more $167 million is than the average, but I’m afraid it would require my son to take off his shoes and, trust me, you don’t want a seventh-grade boy doing that.

Lawrence’s retail sales numbers are a bit like a rib dinner: There’s plenty to like, but the barbecue sauce in your ear can cause a problem.

The sales tax report from the state shows that Lawrence’s sales tax collections are up about 5 percent thus far. That’s good, and actually is better than the showing of several other large retail centers in the state.

But the issue is City Hall budget makers are counting on sales tax collections to grow by 5 percent in 2015 to make the budget work as planned. The last few reports from the state have shown that sales tax collections are growing at a rate slower than what was happening in the beginning of the year. If that trend continues, it could put pressure on both the 2015 and 2016 budgets.

Bryan Kidney, the city’s finance director, told me that it now seems likely the city won’t hit its 5 percent growth estimate for 2015. He said it is still too early to predict how short the city may come up on that projection. It has the potential to cause city officials to reduce expenses in the general fund both for the 2015 and 2016 budgets. The reason it would affect both the 2015 and 2016 budgets is because the recently approved 2016 budget was built with an assumption that there would be a surplus of revenue in the sales tax fund at the end of 2015 that would carry into 2016. In order for the 2016 budget to work properly, the surplus needs to be there. So, that could result in some expenditure cuts in the last part of 2015.

Cuts could be necessary in 2016, if the sales tax growth doesn’t hit projections during that year. The city is banking on sales tax collections growing by at least 3 percent in 2015. We’ll see. That could be close.

So, there are some budgeting challenges, but from a big picture standpoint, recent sales tax numbers have been a strong sign for the Lawrence economy. At the moment, we're at 5 percent growth, and that is better than really any other major retail area in the state. How much that growth rate slows is the key question for budget-makers.

The state should be releasing new sales tax numbers very soon, and I’ll work to get those reported in a more timely manner. (We’ve had other things going on to report at City Hall this month.) But here’s a look how Lawrence’s sales tax collections are stacking up with other major communities.

— Johnson County: up 1.3 percent

— Kansas City: up 4.1 percent

— Lenexa: up 4.9 percent

— Manhattan: up 2.5 percent

— Overland Park: down 2.4 percent

— Salina: up 3.2 percent

— Sedgwick County: up 2.3 percent

— Topeka: up 0.8 percent

Reply 1 comment from Lawrence Freeman

Sales tax collections on the rise in early part of 2015; city sharpening pencil to build $50 million sewer plant on budget

While the forklift drivers are dutifully unloading all the clearance rack Easter candy at my house, there’s a new report out that shows Lawrence shoppers did a pretty good job of keeping the cash registers ringing during the Valentine’s Day period as well.

The latest sales tax report from the Kansas Department of Revenue shows taxable sales in Lawrence from the mid-February to mid-March period were up 4.2 percent compared with the same period a year ago. The year-to-date numbers for 2015 are even more impressive. Thus far, taxable sales — most of which are retail sales but also include sales taxes on items such as your utility bills — are up 5.6 percent compared with the same period a year ago.

The 5.6 percent growth rate puts Lawrence in the top half of the large retail centers in the state. Here’s a look at how other Kansas communities fared:

— Kansas City: up 6.4 percent — Lenexa: up 7.6 percent — Manhattan: up 3.4 percent — Overland Park: down 0.3 percent — Salina: up 5.6 percent — Sedgwick County: up 3.1 percent — Topeka: up 2.1 percent

It will be an interesting year to watch retail sales in Lawrence. There’s lots of activity on south Iowa Street. This year will be the first full year for Dick’s Sporting Goods in the market, PetSmart just recently opened its store next to Dick’s at 27th and Iowa streets. As we previously reported, Ulta Beauty and the Boot Barn also are scheduled to open later this year at the 27th and Iowa street shopping center. Then, just down the road, Menards will open the largest home improvement center in the city near 31st and Iowa. There are multiple pad sites available around that store, although there haven’t been signs yet that tenants have been found for those spaces. And there also is development out west. Sprouts is opening a new grocery store just north of the Sixth and Wakarsusa interchange.

All those stores have the potential to generate significant amounts of sales tax revenue, so it will be interesting to watch whether Lawrence’s sales tax totals over the next couple of years rise significantly. There’s certainly been a debate among some about whether the new stores will add new sales to the Lawrence market or whether it will just shift existing sales around. The numbers probably won’t be definitive. (That’s a way of saying we’ll probably continue to argue about that point.)

But thus far, retail sales in Lawrence are on an impressive run. In 2014, sales tax collections grew by 4.1 percent, which was the second fastest growth rate of the eight major cities that we track. That’s despite the fact that Lawrence continues to have per capita retail spending that is significantly less than other cities. In 2014, our per capita spending was $15,857. Fellow university community Manhattan had per capita spending of $19,236, or about 20 percent greater than Lawrence’s. Maybe Lawrence never will have per capita spending reach that level since we are so close to the major shopping areas in Kansas City.

But there certainly have been arguments that Lawrence can attract more outside-the-community shoppers from places such as Franklin County and Jefferson County who may find it more convenient to run into Lawrence than to deal with the larger crowds in Kansas City. If Lawrence could just increase its per capita spending — either through purchases made by Lawrence residents or by people outside the community coming here to shop — by 1 percent, it would add about $15 million in sales to the Lawrence economy. That $15 million in sales would add about $400,000 a year in new sales tax revenues to the city and county coffers.

If Lawrence somehow could grow its per capita spending levels to equal Manhattan’s, that would amount to about another $337 million a year in retail spending in the city. That would add about another $8.6 million to the sales tax coffers of the city and the county.

In other news and notes from around town:

• When it comes to big numbers, plans for a new sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River kind of take the cake at Lawrence City Hall. If you remember, bids for that project created a few too many big numbers last month. Commissioners rejected the bids after they came in about $5 million more than expected. Well, the project has been rebid, and the results have proved that the best way to get a project to come in closer to engineers' estimates is to . . . raise the engineers' estimates. Previously the sewer treatment plant had an engineers' estimate of $45.9 million. When the project was rebid, engineers increased the estimate to $51.3 million, largely because construction costs are on an upward trend right now.

New bids for the project did come in below the $51 million estimate, but are still above the $45 million to $46 million that city officials have budgeted for. Garney Construction submitted the low base bid at $47.15 million. Crossland Heavy Contractors was the only other bidder at $49.3 million.

City officials, though, are optimistic they’ll be able to make the new bid work. Unlike the last time the project was bid, the city asked for several bid alternates that will allow certain parts of the project to be deleted. By making some deletions, it appears the bulk of the project will be able to be constructed within that $45 million to $46 million range. That price range is important because anything above that would likely require sewer rate increases greater than those that already have been approved.

“The City Commission has made it clear that it wants to move ahead with this project, but it wants to move ahead within the already approved rate plan,” City Manager David Corliss said.

Staff members are looking at the possible deletions and are expected to make a recommendation to the commission in late April.

“But we have some good options now,” said Dave Wagner, the city’s director of utilities.

As far as what may be cut, some options are directly related to the technical sewage treatment operations of the plant, while others are related to office space, vehicle storage and other such ancillary functions.

City officials say the new plant is needed to help the city meet EPA treatment requirements and also to give the city the needed treatment capacity to grow in the coming decades.

Reply 10 comments from Richard Heckler David Holroyd Jake Davis Floyd Craig James MacMurray

Plans being developed for former Sunrise Garden Center in eastern Lawrence; sales tax numbers show local holiday spending down slightly

Plans are in the works between a new nonprofit and a private business to take over the vacant eastern Lawrence property that formerly housed the Sunrise Garden Center.

This spring will be another season that Lawrence green thumbs won’t be able to go to Sunrise Garden Center for bulbs, plants or just advice on what this green stuff is on their thumbs. If you remember, Sunrise closed its doors in late 2013, and the 3.5 acre site at 15th and New York streets has been vacant ever since.

But a new nonprofit is putting together a plan to buy the property, along with a Lawrence-based business that manufactures tofu. Melissa Freiburger is the co-founder of The Sunrise Project. She said her nonprofit has teamed up with Central Soy Foods in an effort to purchase the site. Central Soy Foods would use the site to manufacture its tofu and tempeh products, and the nonprofit would use the greenhouses and other assets to host youth programs and other events that educate about the importance of locally grown foods and other issues of sustainability. Freiburger envisions the site serving as a community greenhouse and also hosting cooking, gardening and similar workshops.

“We really just want to create a very vibrant green space in the community,” Freiburger said.

Central Soy Foods is led by longtime Lawrence businessman David Millstein. If you remember, we reported back in August that Millstein was seeking a new location for the company’s production plant. But a plan to move the operation to a rural homestead didn’t win the necessary approvals. Currently, the company — which has been around since 1978 — operates on a fairly small scale. It produces about 2,000 pounds of tofu and tempeh per week. It primarily sells its products in local grocery stores and a few chains in the Kansas City area.

Millstein told me he thought the site would work very well for the project. He’s proposing to keep the two gabled greenhouses, in part, because he considers those structures to have historical value. Millstein has been a longtime historic preservationist with several buildings in downtown Lawrence. He said he’s contemplating removing the one hoop greenhouse on the site and replacing it with a production facility. He said one other food producer in the area has expressed an interest in sharing the space. He also said he thinks there could be someone who would want to operate the greenhouses to sell micro greens or other such products to area restaurants and grocery stores.

“It has a chance to be a really symbiotic green project,” Millstein said.

The project, though, does have to win some approvals from City Hall. Millstein said he is hopeful neighbors will find the project compatible with the neighborhood.

“I think there probably would be less commotion with this project than when it was Sunrise,” said Millstein, who said the most of the time the site would have fewer than 10 employees at it.

The project also still has some financial questions. Freiburger said the nonprofit is seeking to raise $250,000 to meet its share of the purchase price of the property. The nonprofit — whose legal 501(c)3 name is Lawrence Community Food Alliance — has started a fundraising drive. Freiburger said one neighbor of the site already has pledged $25,000 to the project.

“We feel like it really can become something amazing for the neighborhood,” said Freiburger, who lives near the property. “And the longer the site sits vacant, I know there is a fear that it will become apartments or something like that.”

People can find out more information about how to donate at the group’s website,

In other news and notes from around town:

• I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have much tofu in my stocking this past holiday season. (I once did ruin a good pair of shoes, though, trying to hide tofu in my stockings at a dinner party.) Regardless, there are new numbers out about retail sales in Lawrence during the holiday season, and they suggest stockings may have been a touch light this year.

The city has received its latest sales tax report from the Kansas Department of Revenue. Technically, the report is the first one for the 2015 calendar year, but since sales taxes are paid in arrears, the numbers provide a picture of sales activity during the holiday season. This report generally shows sales from about mid-November to mid-December.

The report found sales tax collections in Lawrence fell by 1.4 percent, compared with the same period a year ago. Lawrence seemed to be on the wrong side of the trend this past season. Of the other large retail markets in the state, only one other posted a decline. Here’s a look:

— Kansas City: up 1.8 percent

— Lenexa: up 2.2 percent

— Manhattan: up 2.3 percent

— Overland Park: down 3.5 percent

— Salina: up 5.1 percent

— Sedgwick County: up 0.4 percent

— Topeka: up 0.8 percent

But we don’t yet have a full picture of the holiday spending. The next report will more fully capture that last two weeks before Christmas, so perhaps here in Lawrence we were just later in getting our holiday shopping started.

As always, City Hall officials will keep a close eye on sales tax collections this year. Healthy sales tax growth is an important part of the city’s budget. It will become an even more important aspect if commissioners are serious about trying to figure out how to build a new police headquarters without increasing taxes.

Sales tax revenues in 2014 grew by a very healthy 4.1 percent. One month isn’t anything to fret about, but if Lawrence wants to match or exceed that pace in 2015, it won’t want many more reports like this most recent one.

Reply 4 comments from Richard Heckler Clara Westphal David Holroyd Jake Davis

Numbers show retail sales in Lawrence grew faster than many cities in 2014; west Lawrence retirement complex seeks sales tax break

We’re part of the billion-dollar club and growing. No, I haven’t resorted to just reading you my mail from the credit card companies. I’m talking about Lawrence’s retail economy and how the latest numbers show we continue to be part of a fairly elite Kansas club. In fact, in one regard, we’re one of the faster growing members of the club.

The final sales tax numbers for 2014 are in, and Lawrence once again topped the $1 billion mark in taxable sales. We are one of nine cities in the state to crack the total. This isn’t Lawrence’s first time to surpass the mark, but we don’t often focus on how large Lawrence’s economy is in relation to the rest of the state. So, let me clear the smoke from the abacus, and we’ll change that right now. Here’s a look at a whole host of figures about Lawrence’s retail economy:

— Taxable sales in Lawrence — everything from retail goods to utility bills — totaled $1.44 billion for the most recent 12-month reporting period. (For you accountants in the crowd, I should note that this technically isn’t all money from 2014. Sales tax reporting lags by one to two months, so the report the state issued in December technically gets us into late November or early December. But the world isn’t perfect, so let’s move on.)

— Lawrence’s sales tax collections grew by 4.1 percent compared with the same period a year ago. Of the nine cities that had $1 billion plus in sales, Lawrence had the second highest growth rate of the bunch. Only Lenexa at 7.8 percent had a more robust year. Here’s a look at the group of nine, ranked by growth rate:

  1. Lenexa: $1.21 billion, up 7.8 percent

  2. Lawrence: $1.44 billion, up 4.1 percent

  3. Kansas City: $2.15 billion, up 3.8 percent

  4. Salina: $1.04 billion, up 3.7 percent

  5. Overland Park: $3.93 billion, up 3.6 percent

  6. Sedgwick County: $8.6 billion, up 3.2 percent (Wichita accounts for the vast majority of this total, but I can’t be more precise because Wichita doesn’t have a city sales tax.)

  7. Topeka: $2.54 billion, up 2.4 percent

  8. Manhattan: $1.08 billion, up 2.4 percent

  9. Olathe: Approximately $2 billion. (A growth rate isn’t readily available for Olathe because it switched sales tax rates midyear in 2014, and my abacus told me such complicated calculations weren’t part of its contract.)

— Lawrence’s per capita spending continues to be on the low side, the latest numbers show. Lawrence had per capita spending of $15,857. Compare that to Lenexa, which had per capita spending of $24,034, tops in the group. Lawrence’s low number can’t be explained away by our status as a university town. Manhattan had per capita spending of $19,236. Geography is probably more of a factor. We’re close to two very large retail markets. Johnson County had more than $10 billion in taxable sales. Shawnee County had nearly $3 billion in taxable sales. What does that tell us? Two things: 1. Lawrence may be in the middle of the most competitive retail corridor in the state. 2. Those Johnson County SUVs have heavy-duty springs to carry all that stuff.

I expect there to be considerable discussion about Lawrence’s retail future in the next several months. One part of that conversation may be for leaders to determine what is a realistic expectation for per capita sales. Does Lawrence concede that it will be a distant No. 3 to Shawnee and Johnson counties when it comes to per capita spending? (We’re obviously not going to catch either one in terms of total spending.) Or, can Lawrence take the approach of some of the cities that have surrounded Overland Park? Overland Park has been the longtime retail giant in Johnson County. But that hasn’t stopped other cities near Overland Park from having robust per capital sales. Here are a few: Merriam, $60,934; Lenexa, $24,034; Leawood: $20,748; Overland Park, $21,861; city of Shawnee, $14,355. As you can see, some have done very well at competing with Overland Park. Others, like Shawnee, have struggled. Its per capita spending is less than Lawrence’s.

— The latest numbers also give an indication of how many retail dollars are near Lawrence. If Lawrence’s per capita spending numbers are to grow, probably three things need to happen: 1. Lawrence residents need to start making more money. 2. Lawrence needs to start getting more shoppers from outside the city limits. 3. Lawrence residents need to make fewer purchases outside of the city. Remember, per capita spending really isn’t a measure of how much each Lawrence resident spends. It is just an equation of total taxable sales divided by total population. So, if you get more people from outside the city buying things, Lawrence’s number goes up. But where will Lawrence get more outside shoppers? City leaders clearly have made a bet that tourists will do some spending. That is part of what Rock Chalk Park is about.

Beyond that, people hope residents from surrounding communities will come shop in Lawrence. But let’s face it, getting people from Johnson County and Shawnee counties to shop in Lawrence will be difficult, unless it is for specialty shopping like you find in downtown. But, there are two other markets to the north and south of us that don’t have all the big retailers that Johnson and Shawnee counties have: Franklin County to the south and Jefferson County to the north. A proposed shopping center near Rock Chalk Park would do more to draw the Jefferson County shoppers, while a proposed center south of the Iowa Street and SLT interchange would do more to draw Franklin County shoppers. These latest numbers from the state give us an indication of how much retail spending is going on in those counties. In Franklin County retail spending totaled $289 million. In Jefferson County it was about $115 million.

Of course, those numbers measure how much was spent in the county; not how much was spent total by their residents. There are large numbers of shoppers in both counties that go to nearby Johnson and Shawnee counties, respectively. But the numbers do give you a sense of the size of the markets. Franklin County is about 2.5 times larger as a market than Jefferson County.

The question city leaders may have to answer in the near future is whether Lawrence wants to get more aggressive in trying to capture dollars from either of those markets.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Today’s a day to probably keep an eye out for more City Commission filings. The deadline isn’t until noon on Jan. 27, but this is one race you probably don’t want to be late to. Several candidates already are campaigning hard. We have two incumbents who haven’t yet announced their plans. I think Commissioner Terry Riordan is likely to run again, but I’m not certain of that. If he does file, he’ll be the 12th candidate to file for the race. The race two years ago had 11 candidates.

As for Commissioner Mike Dever, he hasn’t yet made an announcement, but conventional wisdom is he may not seek another term. He’s already served two, four-year terms. But four years ago, he waited to the last-minute to announce his candidacy, so we’ll see.

One view of a proposed 76-unit independent living facility at Pioneer Ridge in West Lawrence. Photo courtesy Midwest Health and City of Lawrence.

One view of a proposed 76-unit independent living facility at Pioneer Ridge in West Lawrence. Photo courtesy Midwest Health and City of Lawrence. by Chad Lawhorn

We told you last week that city commissioners at their meeting tonight (Tuesday) will receive an incentives request for an expansion of The Eldridge Hotel. Well, there is also another incentive request for a different type of living project. The folks at Pioneer Ridge at Wakarusa and Harvard are seeking industrial revenue bonds to help with the construction of a new independent living complex. We reported on Pioneer’s expansion plans in October. But the incentives request is new.

The company is seeking about $14.5 million in industrial revenue bonds in order to take advantage of a sales tax exemption that comes with the bonds. The bonds will allow the company to buy its construction materials for the project without paying sales taxes. That’s likely to save the company a few hundred thousand dollars in sales taxes. But the company is not asking for a property tax abatement on the project.

As for the expansion, it calls for 76 new independent living units to be built on the vacant site just to the south of its existing facility.

Just like The Eldridge Request — which is seeking both an IRB and a property tax rebate — commissioners are not expected to take any final action at their meeting this evening. Instead, they’ll refer the requests to staff for study and recommendations.

Reply 5 comments from David  Schauner Mark Kostner Kingfisher Melinda Henderson Lawrence Freeman

Retail sales for holiday period in Lawrence up 5 percent; an update on rental licensing proposal

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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  • Reply 1 comment from Richard Heckler

    Downtown ice rink possible; city’s retail sales fall for third time in four months

    Here in another couple of months, my household will be in full Winter Olympics mode. That will mean several things: Jokes about communists (the games are in Russia this year); spontaneous performances of the Olympic theme song, complete with cymbals, by my wife; and whether I like it or not, figure skating on the TV.

    Perhaps in the future, though, we can get our ice skating fix locally. I've gotten wind of an ice skating idea that is percolating at Lawrence City Hall. Folks in the parks and recreation department are exploring the feasibility of a seasonal, outdoor ice rink in downtown Lawrence.

    Mark Hecker, assistant director for parks and recreation, told me several areas are getting a look. They include an area near the Outdoor Aquatics Center and part of South Park. But the most intriguing location is the plaza area that will exist between the city's new parking garage and the expanded Lawrence Public Library once it's completed next year.

    The idea has some momentum at City Hall, in part because City Manager David Corliss is intrigued by it. He said he's interested in finding a way to bring more people to downtown Lawrence in winter. The idea of placing a temporary rink in the plaza area has some synergies, he said, because there would be adequate parking in the adjacent garage, restrooms are available in the new garage, and nonskaters could easily find something to do in the library or make the quick walk over to Massachusetts Street.

    Whether the plaza area will be big enough to accommodate a rink isn't known. The financial feasibility of all this is also a question. To be clear, city officials aren't thinking of simply flooding an area and waiting for it to freeze. They do that occasionally in a low lying area of Watson Park, but it usually is only worth the time if there is going to be three to four weeks of freezing weather.

    Instead, city officials are exploring renting a portable ice rink that comes with the appropriate ice making equipment. The financial feasibility of the idea likely will involve finding a corporate sponsor, and also charging a fee for skaters. Obviously, Crown Center in Kansas City has done well for years with its rink. Even for people who don't skate, it seems to add to the area's reputation as a holiday shopping destination.

    That's certainly behind some of the thinking at Lawrence City Hall.

    "We like the idea of a Winter Wonderland type of concept in the downtown core," Hecker said.

    It's far from a done deal, but city officials seem to be serious about exploring the concept.

    If it comes to be, I know somebody who can provide the theme music.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • There is something else that is slipping and sliding just a bit in Lawrence: Retail sales numbers. The latest city sales tax report shows that taxable sales in the city fell by about 7.5 percent during the most recent reporting period. Totals for the entire year are still decent, but this does mark the third month out of the last four that the city has registered a decline in taxable sales in the city.

    The most recent report details the taxes the city received from the state's Department of Revenue in November, but due to a lag in reporting and processing, it really measures sales that occurred from mid-September to mid-October. So, it appears really early-bird Christmas shoppers weren't out in full force, and, let's face it, Jayhawk football fans weren't roaming the city in the numbers they used to either. I never put too much stock in one month's worth of numbers, but the 7.5 percent decline is fairly significant.

    For the year, sales tax collections are up about 1.6 percent. It's worth remembering that 2012 was a strong year for retail sales locally, so the fact we're above last years totals is encouraging. But, it also is worth noting that Lawrence in 2013 is performing worse than the state as a whole when it comes to retail sales. The statewide growth rate for taxable sales is 2.6 percent so far in 2013.

    Lawrence isn't alone. It has been a mixed bag for several of the larger retail communities in the state. Here's a look at some of the winners and losers:

    — Dodge City: up 1.6 percent

    — Emporia: up 2.5 percent

    — Garden City: up 5.2 percent

    — Hays: down 12.3 percent

    — Hutchinson: up 3.2 percent

    — Junction City: down 1.0 percent

    — Kansas City: up 5.1 percent

    — Leavenworth: up 4.1 percent

    — Leawood: up 0.9 percent

    — Lenexa: up 5.2 percent

    — Manhattan: down 1.2 percent

    — Olathe: up 3.4 percent

    — Ottawa: up 4.5 percent

    — Overland Park: up 1.8 percent

    — Salina: up 1.4 percent

    — Shawnee: up 3.4 percent

    — Topeka: up 0.4 percent

    — Sedgwick County: up 2.3 percent.

    • It was a late night at the Lawrence City Commission meeting on Tuesday, so news of the commission's discussion on a pay raise for commissioners got a little bit short-changed in our coverage. As we reported, staff members were directed to create an ordinance that would bump the annual commission salary to $20,000, up from $9,000 today. The mayor would get a bump to $25,000, up from $10,000 today.

    The proposal, however, is a bit different than some had envisioned. Previously, there was a thought that none of the pay increases would take effect until after a new commissioner had been elected or an existing commissioner had been re-elected. In other words, no one would be guaranteeing themselves a pay increase.

    But Commissioners Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm lobbied for a slightly different idea. The new proposal is that the pay increase would go into effect for all five commissioners after the April 2015 election. Three of the five seats — those held by Schumm, Riordan, and Mike Dever — are up for election in 2015. Mike Amyx and Jeremy Farmer's seats aren't up until 2017. Riordan said it wouldn't be fair for some commissioners to be making $20,000 while others are making only $9,000.

    Ultimately, Dever sided with Riordan and Schumm to move the proposal forward. Amyx and Farmer abstained from the vote because they did not want to be in a position of voting for a proposal that would guarantee themselves a pay increase.

    None of this is official yet. Commissioners still will have to vote on the actual ordinance that increases the pay. That vote likely will happen sometime in January. As for the concept of city commissioners getting paid more, it was widely accepted at Tuesday's meeting. Two members of the public spoke in favor of it. None spoke against it.

    Although there was a city survey that showed Lawrence's proposed salaries would make Lawrence among the higher paying in the area, Riordan said he thought the survey results mainly showed that commissioners in other communities are "grossly underpaid."

    Probably the most interesting item of the discussion is that one member of the public commented that if City Hall wants to do something to encourage more people to run, it should place some limits on campaign spending for City Commission races.

    Commissioners didn't take any action on that idea, but Riordan said he was intrigued by it.

    "That may be worth looking at, at some point," Reardon said. "That probably would affect it more than anything else."

    More LJWorld City Coverage

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  • Reply 7 comments from Barbaragordon Richard Heckler Wayne Kerr Kingfisher John Graham Eddie Muñoz Frankie8 Terrylee

    Lawrence retail sales still up for the year, but latest report raises questions of a slowdown

    You’ll have to decide whether you are in a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty mood today. A new report from Lawrence City Hall on the city’s retail marketplace could leave you feeling either way.

    First, the good news: Retail sales are still tracking above 2012 totals. Retail sales tax collections are up nearly 1.7 percent compared to the same time last year.

    This month’s report tracks sales made through mid-May. Through that time period, taxable sales in the city have totaled about $677 million, up from about $666 million during the same time in 2012.

    That’s good news, especially given that 2012 was a stellar year. Retail sales totals in 2012 grew by more than 5 percent, which was the largest percentage gain since 1998. So, the fact that retail sales are going above and beyond those totals is significant.

    As for the glass-half-empty part, the report does have some numbers that likely will catch the eyes of City Hall budget makers. Sales tax collections for the latest collection period, mid-April to mid-May, were down by about 2 percent. A one-month decline isn’t cause for much concern, but this is the second month in a row that retail sales have declined. That makes next month’s report one to watch because three consecutive months of declines could be considered a trend.

    The larger issue, though, is the city is now at the halfway point for its sales tax collections in 2013. (In case you are wondering, the city receives a check from the state once per month, and it recently received its June check. Because of lag time in collections, the June check only represents sales made through late May. Now you can amaze your friends at parties this weekend with the inner workings of the state’s sales tax collection system.) At the halfway point, sales tax collections are running below the city’s budget projections.

    Thus far, collections are only down by about 0.2 percent compared to the budget. One good month will wipe out that shortfall. But the question, of course, is whether something has changed in the economy that will cause good months to be fewer and farther in between. The city is now projecting one scenario where sales tax collections would come in about 1 percent under budget, which would create about a $260,000 shortfall in the city’s budget.

    It also would get the city’s 2014 budget started off on a bad foot. City Manager David Corliss’ 2014 recommended budget, which was released yesterday, projects sales tax revenues to grow by 2 percent over the amount the city budgeted to collect in 2013. So, if the 2013 collections come in less than budgeted, then sales tax collections in 2014 will have to grow by even more than 2 percent to meet budget.

    None of this is new. Projecting sales tax collections is always a difficult part of the budget process. And if it makes you feel any better, cities all over the state are struggling with the issue too. Retail sales numbers are all over the board. Here’s a look at some of the larger retail markets in the state:

    • Emporia: up 2 percent

    • Hays: Down 3.1 percent

    • Kansas City: Up 5.2 percent

    • Manhattan: Down 3 percent

    • Ottawa: Up 5.1 percent

    • Overland Park: Up 2.2 percent

    • Olathe: Up 2 percent

    • Shawnee: Up 4 percent

    • Topeka: no change from the prior year

    So, what does all this mean? Is the glass half full or half empty? I don’t know. But, of course, I have a certain policy about glasses, a certain beverage and this heat. I take no chances. I keep a glass in each hand — one half full and the other half empty.

    Reply 3 comments from Frankie8 David Holroyd

    Sales tax collections drop slightly during March Madness period, but still up for the year

    Despite an earlier exit by the Jayhawks in the NCAA basketball tournament this year, Lawrence residents still did a pretty decent job of buying veggie trays, guacamole dip, crimson and blue face paint, beer koozies, extra televisions for the bathrooms, 50-foot Jayhawk yard inflatables and all the other standard March Madness purchases. (My list probably misses a couple of items for your typical basketball party, but I didn’t want to be accused of going overboard.)

    City officials have received their latest sales tax report, which covers mid-March through mid-April. Even though the Jayhawks’ run in the tournament ended a few games earlier than the 2012 trip to the championship game, sales totals for the period were off by only 0.1 percent.

    The report found that retailers did about $111.9 million in sales for the period, down from about $112.1 million during the same period a year ago.

    As usual, it is never wise to put too much stock in one month’s worth of sales tax data, so let’s take a look at the broader picture. The most recent report represented the fifth of 12 sales tax reports for the year, and, thus far, sales in the city are up about 2.4 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

    Taxable sales in the city check in at about $568 million through the May reporting period, up from about $554 million a year ago. The totals represent a slowdown in the growth rate from a year ago, when retail sales grew by a little more than 5 percent, and from the 2011 growth rate of 4.5 percent. Lawrence’s growth rate of 2.4 percent is just a bit behind the statewide average of 2.7 percent. As for how Lawrence stacks up to some of the larger retail centers in the state, here’s a look:

    • Emporia: up 2.2 percent

    • Hays: up 2.3 percent

    • Kansas City: up 4.3 percent

    • Manhattan: down 3.4 percent

    • Olathe: up 2.9 percent

    • Ottawa: up 4.2 percent

    • Overland Park: up 2.9 percent

    • Salina: up 1.0 percent

    • Shawnee: up 4.5 percent

    • Topeka: down 0.2 percent

    The latest numbers also show that the Douglas County communities of Baldwin City and Eudora also are having nice years thus far on the retail front. Sales tax collections in Baldwin City are up 6.8 percent, and in Eudora collections are up about 15 percent.

    Reply 1 comment from Jane_doe

    Lawrence retail spending off to strong start in 2013; up 3.1 percent for the year

    Here I thought I was the only one who visited my banker around Valentine’s Day. I’ve found that a home equity loan is useful when you’re trying to buy a year’s worth of forgiveness.

    But apparently I’m not alone because a new report from City Hall shows retail spending spiked during the mid-February through mid-March period. The city’s latest sales report shows retail spending increased by 6.3 percent during the mid-February to mid-March period, compared with the same period a year ago.

    It is always risky to put too much stock into one month’s worth of numbers, but we’ll see if this is the beginning of a spring spending surge. Regardless, retail sales in Lawrence are off to a solid start in 2013. Sales tax collections through the April reporting period are up about 3.1 percent compared with the same period a year ago. (The most recent report was for the April reporting period, but because of a lag time in processing, the numbers represent sales generally made in mid-February to mid-March.)

    Here’s a look at how Lawrence’s retail sales totals stack up to past years. As always, the number in parenthesis is adjusted for inflation. Take a close look at those numbers, because for the first time in awhile the adjusted numbers show that Lawrence basically has returned to the pre-recession numbers of 2008 and early 2009. In other words, perhaps we have about dug out of that hole.

    2013: $456 million

    2012: $442.4 million ($448.5 million)

    2011: $422.3 million ($437 million)

    2010: $406.2 million ($433.6 million)

    2009: $421.4 million ($457.22 million)

    2008: $421.1 million ($455.2 million)

    As for 2013, Lawrence’s growth rate is slightly above the statewide growth rate of 2.9 percent. Here’s a look at how Lawrence’s growth rate of 3.1 percent stacked up with some of the larger communities in the state:

    • Emporia: up 2.9 percent

    • Hays: up 3.3 percent

    • Kansas City: up 5.8 percent

    • Manhattan: down 3.2 percent

    • Olathe: up 3.8 percent

    • Ottawa: up 5 percent

    • Overland Park: up 1.5 percent

    • Shawnee: up 4.5 percent

    • Topeka: down 0.1 percent

    That list tells me one thing: My wife has been shopping in Kansas City. Dangit. I should have kept that joke to myself. Now, I have to find my banker’s number again.

    Reply 4 comments from Jackpot Keith Richards Catalano

    Lawrence’s retail sales up 2.1 percent for first quarter

    In case you had forgotten, today — April 15 — is tax day. But I hear that a high-ranking federal official will be in town on Friday, so perhaps you could save yourself some postage and just ask him to take it back to D.C. with him.

    Let me know how that goes.

    In the meantime, let’s talk taxes of a different type. The city of Lawrence now has received sales tax revenue through the first quarter of 2013, and the city’s retail sales totals are showing growth over and above what was a robust 2012.

    Through the March report, the city has tallied $354.1 million in retail sales, up 2.1 percent from the same period a year ago. In case you are scoring along at home, these totals don’t represent sales actually made from January through March. The state’s reporting system has a lag, so these totals represent sales made in late 2012 up to about mid-February.

    If you are looking for a reason to be negative ( and why wouldn’t you, it is tax day), the city’s March numbers are down about 1.2 percent from March 2012 numbers. But worrying about one month’s worth of sales tax numbers would be like me worrying about my wife buying $150 worth of leftover Easter candy. It's just something that happens in life.

    If you are really looking for a reason to be negative (geez, how much do you owe the federal government?), you also could point to the fact that the city’s sales tax collections are growing more slowly than they did a year ago. But that may just be you being a grump because the city posted a blistering growth rate of 5.24 percent in 2012, which was the city’s best retail growth since 1998. Over the past five years, the average growth rate of retail sales in Lawrence has checked in at 1.8 percent. So, the first quarter was about average.

    Compared to other places in the state, Lawrence’s performance in the first quarter was mixed. Statewide, retail sales grew by 3.7 percent. Here’s a look at some of the larger retail markets in the state:

    • Overland Park: up 1.2 percent

    • Olathe: up 4.9 percent

    • Kansas City: up. 6.3 percent

    • Topeka: up 1.3 percent

    • Emporia: up 3.5 percent

    • Salina: up 1.7 percent

    • Hays: up 5.0 percent

    • Manhattan: down 4.0 percent

    (Look what happens when your football team goes to a bowl game. Everybody leaves town and spends their money somewhere else. I knew KU football knew what it was doing all along.)

    A little closer to home, here’s a look at totals for some smaller communities around Lawrence. But take these figures with a grain of salt. The totals are often so small that it takes only a few dollars to produce a sizable change.

    • Baldwin City: up 5.5 percent

    • De Soto: down 5.9 percent

    • Ottawa: up 7.7 percent

    • Tonganoxie: up 8.1 percent

    • Eudora: up 16 percent. I actually did the math on that one, and the increase represented an extra $1 million in retail spending during the first quarter. Eudora has been running an aggressive “buy local” campaign, with signs everywhere in town. So maybe that it is it, or perhaps my wife simply found a leftover Easter egg candy outlet in Eudora.

    And finally, it wouldn’t be a sales tax article unless I got out my inflation calculator. (You should see the size of that thing.) Here’s a look at Lawrence’s retail sales totals since 2008 — just prior to the financial crisis. The numbers in parentheses are the total adjusted for inflation, in order to give you an idea of how much retail sales have grown above and beyond inflation.

    • 2013: $354.1 million

    • 2012: $346.6 million ($350.4 million)

    • 2011: $333.2 million ($343.9 million)

    • 2010: $309.1 million ($329.1 million)

    • 2009: $327.9 million ($354.8 million)

    • 2008: $334.7 million ($360.9 million)

    So, we haven’t quite rebounded back to the levels seen prior to the financial crisis, but we’re very close. And we clearly have bounced backed from the lows of 2010.

    If you want more analysis than that, you are going to have to do it on your own. I’ve got breakfast to eat — Cadbury eggs and chocolate bunnies, of course.

    Reply 14 comments from Jafs Bigal David Holroyd Ibroke Chootspa Gotland Richard Heckler Appleaday Tolawdjk Lawrenceguy40 and 3 others

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