Today may be the quintessential Lawrence day: A day where everybody takes a lunch break, and at least half the population never returns to work — thanks to either a green beverage or an orange ball. It will be a big money day in Lawrence, and a new report shows merchants have had a few of those recently.
While you may be focusing on St. Patrick, the latest sales tax report indicates Lawrence merchants may still be giddy from what St. Nick left behind. A new Kansas Department of Revenue report indicates retail sales during the Christmas shopping season were up significantly in 2016.
The city received its monthly sales tax check from the state, and the totals largely represented sales made from late November to late December. The report found that sales tax collections during that critical time period grew by 7.8 percent compared to the same period a year earlier.
It looks like shoppers in several Kansas communities opened up their wallets during the Christmas season. Sales tax collections for that one-month period from essentially Thanksgiving to Christmas were up 10 percent in both Johnson and Shawnee counties. In Wichita, the pace was a bit slower but still positive: 5.8 percent growth in Sedgwick County. The big exception was Wyandotte County, which is home to the mega Legends shopping district near the Kansas Speedway. Sales tax collections were down about 15 percent there.
While this one month period is particularly important to retailers, it is never wise to read too much into any one month’s worth of sales tax data. It is fairly easy to have reporting anomalies in a single month, but the number of communities that posted strong gains is a good indication that there was true improvement in holiday spending in the state.
State budget-makers certainly will welcome that. But city and county budget-makers probably are rooting for strong retail sales more than ever. Sales taxes are going to be more important than ever to local budgets. That’s because of the state-mandated property tax lid that will begin with 2018 city and county budgets.
As a reminder, the lid will require local governments in many instances to have a public election before using property taxes to fund new government spending. Cities and counties build their 2018 budgets this summer, and there is a real possibility that we could see elections — they would be mail-in ballots — in the late summer for both the county and city budgets.
There is discussion currently in the Kansas Legislature to alter the lid or even it repeal. So, we’re watching that and will bring you reports. But, the main point still stands: The current environment suggests sales taxes are going to be more critical than ever to growing communities.
Thus far, the news on that front has been good in Lawrence. Lawrence has now received two of the 12 sales tax checks it will receive in 2017. While that is a small sample size, the results have been encouraging and have continued the trends of strong growth we saw through 2016.
Year-to-date, Lawrence sales tax collections are up 7.3 percent compared to the same two-month period a year ago. Here’s a look at how Lawrence’s growth rate compares to some of the other large retail communities in the state.
— Lenexa: up 14.1 percent
— Topeka: up 7.4 percent
— Lawrence: up 7.3 percent
— Olathe: up 6.9 percent
— Johnson County: up 5 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 3.5 percent
— Manhattan: up 3.3 percent
— Overland Park: up 1.9 percent
— Kansas City: down 20 percent
It will be interesting to watch what happens the rest of the year with retail sales and also the attitude local leaders have about retail development. As I was writing this column this morning, I had to stop to report the breaking news that JCPenney has announced it is closing its Lawrence store. (See that article here.) That space, combined with the former Hastings space at 23rd and Iowa, does represent some fairly large vacancies along the city’s prime commercial corridor. How quickly they get tenants will be important to watch.
In the meantime, Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and enjoy your “lunch break.”
Lawrence shoppers slow spending pace a bit, but city still hottest retail market in the state; where Lawrence ranks as a great college town
It is a little early yet for data to show how retail spending is going this holiday season in Lawrence. But my family’s credit card statement must be encouraging. President-elect Trump somehow saw it and tried to appoint me Secretary of Commerce. All this is to say I have the latest report on local retail sales, and it shows that shoppers are still spending more than they did last year, but their pace has slowed a bit.
City officials have received their November sales tax check. The money represents sales taxes collected primarily in September, so it is still a bit early to say this report provides an indication of holiday shopping (unless you count the pre-Halloween candy sales, which I know some people who do.) The latest report shows sales tax collections were up by 1.7 percent compared with the same month a year ago. That growth is positive, but it is not nearly as large a number as what the city has been posting for most of the year. Many of the monthly reports have shown increases of 5 percent or 6 percent, and some even have been double-digit increases.
It will be interesting to watch whether Lawrence’s retail spending flattens out to end the year. Retailers already know whether that’s the case or not, but we can’t really know until we see the reports that will be released over the next few months. (I used to ask retailers for updates on how holiday sales were going, but they inevitably reported everything was going well. In their defense, they had just seen my credit card walk through their front door, so they had reason to be optimistic.)
Thus far for 2016, the city is sitting pretty when it comes to sales tax collections. The state report shows Lawrence sales tax collections year-to-date are up 5.7 percent compared with the same period a year ago. If the city can at least maintain that pace for the rest of the year, the city’s budget will have some unexpected money coming its way. City officials had projected a 3.7 percent increase for the year. Thus far, the city already has collected $1.2 million more in sales tax revenues than it did during the same period of 2015.
The question, though, is whether Lawrence can continue on this pace? Time will tell on that, but in the meantime, something is happening in Lawrence that has it near the top of the charts in terms of retail activity among the big markets in the state. Here’s a look at how Lawrence’s year-to-date growth totals stack up:
— Lawrence: up 5.7 percent
— Olathe: up 3.8 percent
— Topeka: up 3.4 percent
— Overland Park: up 2.7 percent
— Kansas City: up 1.8 percent
— Johnson County: up 1.9 percent
— Manhattan: up 1.7 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 1.3 percent
— Lenexa: down 3 percent
As has been the case most of the year, city officials point to three areas that have spurred the significant increase in sales tax collections: a 25 percent increase in the sales of building materials; a 7 percent increase in the sales of motor vehicles and parts; and 6 percent increase in sales at food and beverage stores, i.e., grocery stores, not restaurants and bars.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Whatever is happening in Lawrence, a new report that ranks the best college towns in America found it only mildly impressive.
The financial website WalletHub has released its annual list of the best college towns in America, and Lawrence ranks No. 69 out of the 415 cities studied.
Obviously, a ranking of No. 69 puts Lawrence solidly in the top quartile of the rankings, but I guess I’m still a bit ho-hum about it because the report ranks a lot of communities that you wouldn’t consider college communities. For instance, Olathe — home to MidAmerica Nazarene University — is ranked as part of the report. Yes, it has a university, but, gentlemen, paint your school’s mascot on your bare chest and walk through downtown Olathe, and you’ll find it is not really a college town.
What’s more notable about this ranking is where Lawrence compares with other big time college communities. Here’s a look at some regional college communities:
— No. 14: Ames, Iowa, home to Iowa State
— No. 17: Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa
— No. 18: Austin, Texas, home to the University of Texas
— No. 28: Morgantown, W. Va., home to the University of West Virgina
— No. 37: Manhattan, home to Kansas State
— No. 48: Boulder, Colo, home to the University of Colorado
— No. 49: Stillwater, Okla, home to Oklahoma State
— No. 51: Columbia, Mo., home to the University of Missouri
— No. 57: Fort Collins, Colo., home to Colorado State
— No. 63: Norman, Okla., home to the University of Oklahoma
— No. 69: Lawrence, home to the University of Kansas
— No. 78: Waco, Texas, home to Baylor University
— No. 82: Lincoln, Neb., home to the University of Nebraska
— No. 110: Fort Worth, Texas, home to Texas Christian
— No. 112: Lubbock, Texas, home to Texas Tech
If you are interested in the top 5 overall, they are:
— No. 1: Oxford, Ohio, home to Miami University
— No. 2: East Lansing Mich., home to Michigan State
— No. 3: West Lafayette, Ind., home to Purdue
— No. 4: Athens, Ohio, home to Ohio University
— No. 5: Amherst Center, Mass., home to University of Massachusetts
So, as the list above demonstrates, there is a reason to allow Texas schools to be in our conference. Without Waco, Fort Worth and Lubbock, Lawrence would have been last of the Big 12 towns in this study.
But, of course, it is just one study and, like all rankings, it is highly subjective. But WalletHub does generally use solid data from the Census Bureau and other government agencies to compile its rankings, so that is why I pass some of them along.
Unfortunately, this report doesn’t provide a lot of specifics about what areas Lawrence excelled in or struggled in as part of the ranking. It does rate Lawrence as No. 138 in ‘wallet fitness” rank, which includes items such as housing and living costs. Lawrence scored worse in the “social and environmental” rank, coming in at No. 212. That category includes everything from number of bars and restaurants per capita to crime rate statistics. Lawrence’s best area was “academic and economic opportunities” rank, at No. 76. That includes, among other topics, a look at rankings of the university itself, unemployment rates and job growth numbers.
So, make whatever you will of it. My takeaway is it probably is still going to be awhile before I can return to downtown Olathe.
Hot spending pace continues in Lawrence with sales up $70 million so far; eastern Lawrence retailer opens; signs of expansion at tech center
The latest retail sales report shows spending totals surged in Lawrence, and they don’t even yet include the expenditures on earplugs, blinders and vulgarity detectors needed to get through the last month of the presidential campaign.
Instead, the latest report from the Kansas Department of Revenue shows spending that primarily happened in August. The report builds on a nearly yearlong theme of Lawrence being one of the hottest retail markets in the state.
For the month, sales tax collections in Lawrence were up 7.1 percent compared with the same month a year ago. The more impressive number is the year-to-date total. Thus far in 2016, local sales tax collections are 5.5 percent — or about $1 million — ahead of last year’s total. To put that in perspective, the totals show that Lawrence consumers have spent nearly $70 million more in 2016 than they did during the same period of 2015.
The sales tax totals are good news for Lawrence City Hall. The city budgeted for a surge in sales tax collections, but it did not plan on an increase of more than 5 percent. Instead, it budgeted for a 3.7 percent increase. If the city can finish the year with an increase of 5 percent or more, it will result in a windfall of several hundred thousand dollars to the city budget. But we are about ready to enter the key period for the retail season. A poor Christmas shopping season could quickly reverse these numbers.
Here’s a look at how Lawrence is stacking up compared with other large retail centers in the state. All numbers are year-to-date, compared with the same period a year ago:
— Lawrence: up 5.5 percent
— Olathe: up 3.4 percent
— Topeka: up 3.0 percent
— Overland Park: up 2.4 percent
— Manhattan: up 1.6 percent
— Kansas City: up 1.4 percent
— Johnson County: up 1.4 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 1.0 percent
— Salina: down 2.8 percent
— Lenexa: down 4.7 percent
In other news and notes from around town:
• As we have been reporting for several months, the shopping center at 19th and Haskell is set to get a boost with the opening of a new Dollar General store. Well, the wait is over for eastern Lawrence residents. The Dollar General store has opened in the past few days. The store has announced that it is holding a grand opening ceremony at 8 a.m. Saturday, which will include several giveaways.
As I suspect you already know, Dollar General sells housewares, cleaning supplies, health and beauty, basic apparel, and some food, among other items. The new store, which was built in a portion of the parking lot of the old shopping center, employs about 10 people, the company said.
The new store definitely is the most significant development for the old shopping center in years. It will be interesting to see if the store and the additional traffic it brings to the area spurs more redevelopment of the rundown property.
• Keep your ears open for what could be an exciting development at the Peaslee Tech vocational education center in southeast Lawrence. I’m hearing that officials there are working on a deal to add a new automotive technician degree program, and may be close to finalizing a deal.
The program would teach students — likely both adult and high school — the necessary skills to enter the automotive repair industry. I think the program would involve a partnership between an area community college, local automotive dealers and others.
I’ve got a call in to the Peaslee Tech center to get more details, but I have heard from multiple sources that such a deal is in the works. I’ll let you know when I hear more.
In case you have forgotten, Peaslee Tech is the relatively new vocational education center that is run through a partnership with community colleges, local economic development organizations, and city and county tax dollars. It also has been successful in tapping into private fundraising from industry leaders to make improvements at the center, which is near 31st and Haskell.
Lawrence sales tax collections are a bit like the Kansas City Royals these days: They’re still in good shape, but concern is starting to grow that I shouldn’t have ordered 150 pounds of bean dip for the World Series party. In other words, both are in a bit of a slump.
The latest report from the Kansas Department of Revenue shows that Lawrence’s sales tax collections for the year are still 4.2 percent above last year’s collections at this point in time. But the report shows that most of that growth came early in the year, and now sales tax collections are coming in slightly behind last year’s total. For the August reporting period, the city’s sales tax collections were down 1 percent.
A slight drop in sales tax revenue for a single month isn’t that concerning. But what is more noteworthy is that city officials are continuing to express some concern that the 2015 sales tax total may fall short of budget. The city staff had been projecting that sales tax revenues would grow by 5 percent over 2014 totals. Staff members are now not confident such growth will occur.
“Our 5 percent revised budget doesn’t appear as conservative as we once thought,” staff of the city’s finance department wrote in a memo to the city manager’s office. “Staff will continue to monitor sales and recommend adjustments to the budget if it appears projections through 2015 continue to drop below the the 5 percent revised budget amount for the year.”
As we previously have reported, the city may find itself making some spending adjustments in 2015, in part because it wants to enter 2016 with a certain amount of cash reserves. If sales tax grows less than expected in 2015, that means sales tax collection in 2016 will have to grow more than expected in order to meet their budgeted amount.
We’ll see how the rest of the year goes. This most recent report was for the August period, but because of a lag in the sales tax reporting process, the report reflects purchases that were made in the mid-May to mid-June time period. Lawrence traditionally sees a spike in sales tax collections when students and their families prepare to return back to school. When the state issues its next couple of reports, we’ll know how big of a bump the city got this year from back-to-school activity.
As for how Lawrence compares to other large retail communities, it is a bit of a mixed bag. The latest report shows that Lawrence is lagging while several other communities are picking up steam. Of the eight major retail markets we track, only Sedgwick County posted a decline of more than 1 percent (down 1.7 percent) for the August period. Johnson County, on the other hand, posted a 1.4 percent gain in August, and Topeka was up 0.5 percent. Manhattan was up 1.1 percent and Salina up 1.9 percent.
But when you look at the year-to-date numbers, Lawrence is still doing well, thanks in part to a very hot start at the beginning of the year. Here’s a look at how Lawrence’s year-to-date growth rate of 4.2 percent stacks up to several of the other large retail centers in the state:
— Johnson County: up 1.3 percent
— Kansas City: up 3.9 percent
— Lenexa: up 4.1 percent
— Manhattan: up 2.4 percent
— Overland Park: down 1.9 percent
— Salina: up 3 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 1.7 percent
— Topeka: up 0.8 percent
On that list, Lawrence is still having the best year of any of the other retail areas.
So, maybe the bean dip order will be all right after all. But I’ve become convinced that I definitely should not have practiced the championship celebration in the living room — at least not with Gatorade that didn’t match the carpet.
Lawrence’s sales tax collections growing at fastest rate in the state; a final payment on Rock Chalk Park recreation center
Maybe Lawrence shoppers have crystal balls. Here we are in June, and the latest signs out of Topeka are pointing to a sales tax increase. So, what did Lawrence shoppers do in May? They bought, bought and bought some more. So much so that Lawrence, at the moment, is the fastest growing major retail market in the state.
Based on the latest sales tax figures, Lawrence shoppers don’t just have crystal balls in their closets, but likely mountains of new shoes, clothes and three-quarters of the inventory of the QVC shopping network. Sales tax collections in Lawrence rose by a whopping 11.4 percent last month.
The latest figures from the Kansas Department of Revenue are for the May reporting period, which generally covers sales that were made from mid-April to mid-May. The 11 percent increase in taxable retail sales is one of the larger monthly increases I can remember for Lawrence. What’s behind the increase is tough to say. Certainly there is some increased visitor spending generated by tournaments and other such events at Rock Chalk Park. But that’s not likely to account for all of the increase. When you do the math on the May numbers, Lawrence consumers spent about $14 million more last month than they did for the May period of 2014.
Monthly sales tax totals can be erratic. The year-to-date numbers generally are more meaningful. Lawrence is excelling in that area too. Through the May reporting period, Lawrence’s sales tax collections have grown 6.9 percent. That’s a higher growth rate than any of the other major retail markets in the state. Here’s a look:
— Johnson County: up 2 percent
— Kansas City: up 5.2 percent
— Lenexa: up 6.2 percent
— Manhattan: up 4.4 percent
— Overland Park: down 2.9 percent
— Salina: up 5.4 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 3.8 percent
— Topeka: up 2.1 percent
If this trend continues for Lawrence, it could make for a bit easier budget process at City Hall this summer. When city officials were putting together the 2015 budget last summer, they budgeted for about a 3 percent increase in sales tax collections. If the increase instead comes in closer to 7 percent, that would provide a bit of a windfall. Based on rough numbers in the city’s budget, the city is on pace to receive about $1.25 million more than what it had budgeted to receive in sales tax dollars.
But, that is dependent upon the city maintaining its current pace. For that to happen, City Hall leaders had better hope Lawrence consumers still have some closet space left.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Tuesday’s City Commission meeting may produce an uncomfortable vote. Commissioners are scheduled to to make the final $50,000 payment due to Gene Fritzel Construction for the construction of the recreation center at Rock Chalk Park.
As is fairly common with large projects, the city withheld payment on a portion of the $10.5 million construction contract for the recreation center to ensure that all miscellaneous “punch list” items were taken care of before the contractor received its final payment.
City officials say those punch list items are now completed. I’m not exactly sure what those items consisted of for Sports Pavilion Lawrence, but I’ll check. In other projects it has involved everything from touch-up paint to readjusting how doors fit to other issues that you don’t typically notice until you have used the building for a bit.
As we previously have reported, the building has had some issues related to some concrete cracking and water leakage. The city, the builder and the architects have been working on those issues. This final payment doesn’t preclude continued work, if other such issues develop. City officials note the entire building is under warranty until Sept. 1.
The vote may be an interesting one, however, because there is only one commissioner left on the City Commission that actually voted for the Rock Chalk Park project. That’s Mayor Jeremy Farmer. Commissioner Mike Amyx is the only other member who was on the commission during the time the project was being approved, but he consistently voted against the project. The other three commissioners all took office in April, and all of them expressed significant concerns about how the process that was used to approve the project.
But it is worth remembering a couple of points. First, the recreation center portion of the Rock Chalk Park Project did go through the city’s standard bidding process. The $10.5 million bid from Gene Fritzel Construction was the low bid in what was a very competitive bid letting. It was the approximately $12 million worth of infrastructure work at Rock Chalk Park that didn’t go through the city’s bidding process. Second, the city signed a contract saying the city would pay the company $10.5 million for the construction of the building, as long as certain conditions are met. City staff members are saying those conditions have been met. You can go back and argue about the process surrounding the Rock Chalk Park project, but failing to pay an executed contract likely will land the city in a different type of a process: a legal one that involves attorneys who bill by the hour.
Given all that, I would expect the commission will find the necessary votes to make the final payment.
Lawrence’s retail sales growth near the top in the state; update on Dale Willey expansion on South Iowa; city commissioners seek more info on solar power
Whether it be new events held in town or just a new outlook on life, Lawrence shoppers continue to spend more these days, according to the state’s latest report.
According to the Kansas Department of Revenue, taxable sales in Lawrence were up 6.4 percent for the April reporting period. That period generally covers sales made from about mid-March to mid-April.
For the year, sales tax collections are up 5.8 percent compared with the same period a year ago. That puts the Lawrence market near the top of the list when it comes to growth totals for major retail areas in the state. Here’s a look at several other large markets:
— Johnson County: up 2.9 percent
— Kansas City: up 5 percent
— Lenexa: up 7.5 percent
— Manhattan: up 3.8 percent
— Overland Park: down 0.1 percent
— Salina: up 4. 4 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 2.7 percent
— Topeka: up 1.7 percent
Retail sales have been on a hot streak in Lawrence lately. In 2014, retail sales grew by 4.1 percent. It is still early, but if Lawrence stays on its current pace, 2015 will be the fourth time in the last five years that the city has posted retail sales growth above 4 percent. I would think chances are good that Lawrence will see strong retail sales growth throughout 2015. Menards is set to open at some point this year (I’m still guessing late summer), and that will be one of the largest new retail stores built in the city in recent years. Plus, 2015 is the first full year for tournaments and other events being held at Rock Chalk Park.
The city expects to host more than 30 tournaments or camps at Sports Pavilion Lawrence in 2015. It is tough to estimate how much new retail spending those events are creating, but they’re certainly adding some. I’ve heard talk that city officials have been seeking some information from tournament organizers about how many of their families are spending the night in Lawrence and other information such as how often they eat out while attending a tournament. I’ll do some looking to see if any of that information has been compiled yet. I’ve also heard talk at City Hall that more efforts are on the way — through signs or other means — to make sure tournament participants known they have plenty of time to get downtown or elsewhere in the community while they are at these daylong tournaments.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Some of you may be wondering about more changes you are seeing on South Iowa Street. Demolition work has begun at the car wash between Dale Willey Automotive and the now defunct Payless Furniture building.
As we previously have reported, Dale Willey Automotive is going to use the property to expand its dealership. I’ve recently confirmed with Dale Willey officials, however, that they’ve decided to keep the two automatic car wash bays that are located at the site. They’ll continue to be open to the public after the dealership takes over the property.
The dealership also has bought the Payless Furniture building. Expect renovations to begin on that site in a matter of days. The building will become a showroom and offices for the dealership’s used car headquarters. Yes, the change in ownership will mean an end to the bright red and blue paint job on the building. Managers at Dale Willey said the exterior of the building will be remodeled to closely resemble Dale Willey’s main showroom just down the street.
The big open space where the car wash currently sits will be used to store more cars. General Manager Jeff Hornbeck told me the new space will allow the dealership to stock both more new and used cars. Hornbeck is hopeful renovation work will be completed by July 1, but certainly by the time students start arriving again in early August.
By the way, when it comes to the strong growth in sales tax receipts, don’t forget the local car dealers. If I had to bet on the one factor that is the strongest contributor to sales tax growth in the last year or two, it would be increased car sales. Car dealers have pointed to a lot of numbers that show the average age of vehicles on the road are the highest they have been in decades. Combine that with the fact most of the Lawrence car dealers have undertaken major renovations to become more attractive, and you have to figure auto sales in Lawrence have been on the rise.
• Someday, the sun will shine again, and when it does there may be a larger discussion at City Hall about whether solar panels on city buildings make sense. City Commissioner Leslie Soden made a point at Tuesday’s meeting to question city staff about whether any city buildings use solar panels today. She did so after noticing that the city’s payment to Westar Energy was about $270,000.
The city has a pilot project, funded by Westar, that has placed solar panels at the Prairie Park Nature Center. But other than that, the city doesn’t have any of its other buildings using solar panels.
The city, however, has been looking at whether some of its street lighting projects could be powered via solar. City engineers have considered using solar powered street lamps for a lighting project along 23rd Street. They did so after Lawrence school board member Kristie Adair came to a meeting and suggested the city was missing an opportunity to use solar powered lights.
The city last week got bids back for that project. The city hasn’t yet brought those bid totals to city commissioners for consideration, but public works director Chuck Soules told commissioners on Tuesday the solar option didn’t look too promising.
“That didn’t come back too well,” Soules said. “The lighting isn’t as powerful as we want for street lights, and the costs are significant.”
Soden said she would like staff members to look at whether there are opportunities to add solar panels to existing city buildings.
As for the street light project, it proposes to add new LED street lights to the north side of 23rd Street, roughly from Iowa Street to Alabama Street. If the project proceeds, work likely would begin in July, and some temporary lane closures would occur on 23rd Street while the work is underway.
Retail sales in Lawrence hit new high; Biggs opens downtown location; Burger Fi expected to open in matter of days
Maybe it was the gross of red, white and blue streamers that I bought, or perhaps the case of burn ointment that I ordered, or maybe even the significant amount of foundation work I had to perform after my buddy lit a firecracker that looked and sounded a lot like a half-stick of dynamite. Whatever the case, a new report shows retail sales in Lawrence reached an all-time high for the period surrounding the July 4 holiday.
The latest numbers show that consumer spending in Lawrence for the period of mid-June to mid-July grew by a whopping 7 percent from the same period a year ago. With 8 of the 12 reporting periods for 2014 now in the books, consumer spending in Lawrence is up 4 percent for the year, compared with the same period in 2013. Simply put, Lawrence consumers have been as protective of their money this year as the Detroit Tigers bullpen has been of a late-inning lead. (I know, that was weak. But I’m a Kansas City Royals fan, and the idea of making jokes about other baseball teams is still a new concept.)
Consumer spending in Lawrence has increased eight of the last nine reporting periods. The one period it declined was last month’s reporting period, so this news of strong spending should ease some concerns that perhaps retail spending was beginning to cool. In fact, here’s an interesting piece of trivia for you: Taxable sales in Lawrence totaled just over $130 million during the mid-June to mid-July reporting period. Based on the records I have from the city, that appears to be the highest total for any month of any year in the city’s history. Now, none of that is adjusted for inflation, so I’m sure there have been some better months once you make that adjustment, but still it is a neat little barstool conversation-starter. (Assuming you are in a bar full of economists, auditors and accountants, which likely would be named Liquid Assets, or perhaps the Denominator, if you wander into a tough-guy mathematician bar.)
But speaking of inflation, the numbers in 2014 are strong even when you factor inflation into the equation. Thus far in 2014, consumer spending in Lawrence is at $958 million. That’s up by $147 million from the same period in 2010, which was when the economy was at a real low point. If you adjust those numbers for inflation, they still show that consumer spending has grown by about 8 percent during the time period. That’s about 2 percent per year, after inflation, which may not sound like a lot, but actually is pretty good compared with some past periods. For 2004 to 2008, for example, consumer spending in Lawrence actually declined slightly when adjusted for inflation. Going back further, the go-go years of 1996 to 2000 saw consumer spending in Lawrence increase by a little more than 12 percent after inflation, or a bit more than 3 percent a year.
As for the here and now, Lawrence’s 2014 performance is stacking up well against other retail markets in Kansas. I look at 16 different communities in the state, and Lawrence’s 2014 growth rate currently is the fifth highest. Here’s the list:
• Dodge City: down 0.7 percent
• Emporia: up 4.8 percent
• Garden City: up 5.2 percent
• Hays: down 15.9 percent
• Hutchinson: up 2.3 percent
• Junction City: down 0.2 percent
• Kansas City: up 3.4 percent
• Leawood: up 1.2 percent
• Lenexa: up 4.6 percent
• Manhattan: up 1.5 percent
• Ottawa: up 3.5 percent
• Overland Park: up 3.8 percent
• City of Shawnee: 5.3 percent
• Salina: up 3 percent
• Topeka: up 1.2 percent
• Sedgwick County: up 3.6 percent
In other news and notes from around town:
• Downtown Lawrence is back in the barbecue business. As we reported in June, Lawrence’s Biggs BBQ signed a deal to open up Biggs on Mass in the former Buffalo Bob’s Smokehouse location at 719 Massachusetts St. The restaurant opened on Monday.
The menu focuses on barbecue, with both full barbecue meals or simple sandwiches available. It doesn’t carry the chicken fried steak and other such meals that the large Biggs BBQ restaurant on South Iowa Street carries. The restaurant also is a quick service type of establishment, where you place your order at a counter and someone brings it out to you in just a couple of minutes.
The restaurant has remodeled the Buffalo Bob’s space and replaced much of the western decor with old photographs of Lawrence and Jayhawk sports teams. The remodeling job also includes an element that should please economists, auditors and mathematicians. There is a flat-screen television in all 18 of the booths in the restaurant. So, now you don’t have to miss out on C-SPAN, CNBC or PBS. Actually, I don’t think that is quite the concept. Doug Holiday, owner of Biggs, told me that while the restaurant isn’t trying to be a traditional sports bar, it definitely wants to have plenty of televisions for sports fans who want to come in for dinner.
“I learned early on at my days at the Hereford House that you really need to have televisions in Lawrence,” Holiday said, referring to his time as the general manager for the Lawrence steak house. “People in Lawrence really like their sports.”
• In other restaurant news downtown, look for Burger Fi to be open in the coming days. The restaurant at 918 Massachusetts St. — the former Chutney’s location — has scheduled a ribbon cutting for Oct. 1. As we reported in March, the hamburger chain is excited to move into the Lawrence market. It had hoped to open in midspring. The restaurant makes all of its hamburgers from free-range, hormone-free, never frozen Angus beef. It also carries a line of ice cream and desserts that are made with sugar cane instead of the more common high frutose corn syrup. When I chatted with the franchise owner in March, he said the company also had signed a marketing deal with the Sporting KC soccer club, which means the restaurant plans to have some team events at the Lawrence location. I’ve got a call into the Burger Fi folks to get the latest update on their current plans.
• I’m also keeping an eye out on the Buffalo Wild Wings location. As we have reported several times, the construction work underway at the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets is for a multitenant building that will house Buffalo Wild Wings. I previously have not gotten Buffalo Wild Wings to confirm that it will close its downtown restaurant when the new location opens, but I haven’t checked in on that front for awhile. That certainly is the expectation, though, in the restaurant and real estate circles around town.
Retail sales grow for sixth consecutive month in Lawrence; KU launches 25th startup company; city receives another incentive request
March Madness. You all remember those days in Lawrence. We were all mad. Stupid doctors who can't fix Joel Embiid's back. Stupid Stanford mascot. Stupid television screen that can't withstand a platter of 23 pounds of bean dip being thrown at it.
Well, evidently we weren't so mad that it stopped us from shopping. In fact, perhaps nothing in 2014 will stop us from spending our dollars in Lawrence. The latest sales tax report from City Hall shows that spending for the period from mid-March to mid-April was up nearly 4 percent compared with the same period a year ago. The bigger news is that this is the sixth consecutive report that has shown an increase in spending by Lawrence consumers.
For the year, sales tax collections are up 3.8 percent. That's a welcome sight to those who watch the Lawrence economy. The 3.8 percent growth rate is better than the 2.1 percent growth rate posted in 2013. Retail sales activity in 2013 began to show some signs of slowing, but the 2014 numbers should be easing those concerns.
Even though state revenue figures have been less-than-stellar lately, the sales tax numbers show a retail rebound is underway in several of the state's larger communities. Lawrence's 3.8 percent growth rate is just middle-of-the-pack compared with several other communities. Here's a look at the growth rates in other major shopping areas in Kansas:
• Emporia: 5.1 percent
• Garden City: 5.7 percent
• Hays: down 23.4 percent
• Hutchinson: 2.4 percent
• Junction City: down 0.3 percent
• Kansas City: 4.2 percent
• Leawood: down 1 percent
• Lenexa: 5.1 percent
• Manhattan: 0.8 percent
• Ottawa: 6.3 percent
• Overland Park: 5.5 percent
• Salina: 2.1 percent
• City of Shawnee: 3.9 percent
• Topeka: 1.5 percent
• Sedgwick County: 3.1 percent
So, the numbers are good, but it is important to keep them in perspective. Two other closely watched sets of numbers haven't gotten off to as strong of a start in 2014: home sales and local building permits. We'll have an update on the latest numbers from those sectors in the coming days.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Here is another Lawrence number to take note of: 25. Kansas University has recently announced that its 25th startup company has been formed. This one is all about protein. Yes, I have a platter of bean dip that would seem to make me an expert on protein. (Well, I have pieces of the platter.) Regardless, that's not really the type of protein we're talking about.
KanPro Research is a company that produces laboratory proteins that are used by other research companies. KU biochemist Philip Gao is the founder of the company. The firm currently has two employees and is located in the Bioscience & Technology Business Center on KU's West Campus. Gao said he believes the company could grow to 10 employees by 2017.
The company expects to sell its proteins — it specializes in hard-to-produce proteins — to other universities and to the private sector. In particular, Gao expects the large and growing animal health sciences industry that is centered on the Kansas City area to be a major source of industrial companies.
Currently, the company is producing smaller, laboratory-scale batches of proteins, but Gao said he thinks there's potential to grow into a larger regional facility that would produce large batches for manufacturing purposes.
"Our goals are long-term," Gao said. "We want to create a lasting company in Lawrence with a focus on serving regional scientists and benefiting the biotech community."
• Yesterday we told you about a financial incentives request city commissioners have received for a $75 million apartment project. Commissioners also have received another request for a smaller scale project.
As expected, local architect Stan Hernly is requesting a partial property tax rebate and fee waivers to facilitate the rehabilitation of an old home and barn at 1106 Rhode Island St.
In case you have forgotten, 1106 Rhode Island St. is the property the city bought through the eminent domain process earlier this year. The house and barn are historic structures that had fallen into disrepair under previous ownership. The city's plan was to purchase the property and then make it available for redevelopment by the private sector.
Hernly's group has proposed renovating the structures to accommodate residential and office uses. But Hernly sad the numbers clearly show that project isn't feasible without financial incentives. Hernly is asking for the city to waive about $26,000 in development fees, such as building permit fees and utility connection fees.
As for tax incentives, Hernly is asking for a property tax rebate through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act. The project is seeking an 85 percent abatement on new property taxes generated by the project for a 10-year period.
City staff members are recommending that the request be forwarded to the Public Incentives Review Committee for study and recommendation.
Retail sales in the city up 3 percent for the year; SLT opponents organizing “occupation” event at the wetlands
There must have been a lot of families with back-to-school shopping lists this season much like mine: pencils, erasers, notebooks, diamond earrings. (What's that? I was told it is a necessity that mothers looks stylish at PTO meetings.)
Regardless, the latest sales tax report from Lawrence City Hall shows that something caused a spike in sales during that back-to-school season. The city's September sales tax report — which actually includes sales data from the mid-July to mid-August time period — shows taxable sales in the city were up a whopping 17 percent from September 2012.
I never make too much of one month's worth of data because statistical anomalies can pop up, but the bigger picture also is looking more positive than it did for the city just a few months ago. With nine months of sales tax checks in the bank, retail sales in the city are up 3 percent from the same period a year ago.
Bottomline: Retail sales are growing at a decent clip in Lawrence, but not nearly as fast as they did in 2012. At this time last year, retail sales were up 6 percent. But I can tell you that City Hall officials who rely on sales tax collections for a big part of their budgets are breathing a little easier now. At the midway point of 2013, retail sales were up just 1.7 percent for the year, and it was uncertain whether the city's sales tax collection would meet budget for the year.
It appears more likely that the city will make its budget at this point. With just three more checks to collect in 2013, collections in the city's largest sales tax fund are about 1 percent over budget projections. So, the fourth quarter still will be key, but City Hall budget-makers feel better about their chances than they did a few months ago.
As for how Lawrence stacks up with other cities, it is a mixed bag. The data indicates Lawrence's retail sales growth may be a little bit behind the statewide average. For all jurisdictions that collect a local sales tax, the average growth rate thus far for 2013 has been 3.7 percent compared to 3.0 percent for Lawrence. Here's a look at how some of the larger retail markets in the state have fared year-to-date:
• Emporia: up 3.6 percent
• Hays: down 8.3 percent
• Kansas City: up 5.7 percent
• Manhattan: down 0.1 percent
• Olathe: up 4.5 percent
• Overland Park: up 3.2 percent
• Salina: up 2.9 percent
• Shawnee: up 5.1 percent
• Topeka: up 1.7 percent
Here's a look at some of the smaller markets around Lawrence. The sales totals in these communities are much smaller, so wilder swings are possible. But with nine months in the books, most are having a strong year:
• Baldwin City: up 1.4 percent
• Basehor: up 16 percent
• Eudora: up 14.2 percent
• Ottawa: up 6.9 percent
• Tonganoxie: up 10.0 percent
And finally, here's a look at how Lawrence's retail sales totals year-to-date compare to the same period in past years, and how they have been growing once adjusted for inflation. The number in parenthesis is the inflation-adjusted total for the year:
2013: $1.03 billion 2012: $1.00 billion ($1.02B) 2011: $947.9 million ($985.5M) 2010: $916.5 million ($983.0M) 2009: $930.7 million ($1.01B) 2008: $966.2 million ($1.04B)
So, once adjusted for inflation, Lawrence's retail sales are up about 1 percent for the year, and we're still lagging behind where we were before the economic downturn that hit in late 2008. But don't worry, we'll catch up. I think there is another PTO meeting coming up.
In other news and notes from around town:
• From PTO to WPO — the Wetlands Preservation Organization. As I've been telling you, get ready for some protests out at the Baker Wetlands as roadwork on the South Lawrence Trafficway likely will begin in the wetlands next month. Well, the WPO — which includes a lot of students from Haskell Indian Nations University — is beginning to show its hand in that regard. The organization's Facebook page is advertising an "Occupy the Wakarusa Wetlands" event on Oct. 25 and Oct. 26. According to a flier on the site, the group is encouraging people to camp at the wetlands and "help us protest this atrocity." The website also says the group is trying to "organize resistance and awareness in any way possible," and it even makes reference to the large protests that have gripped the Arab world. "There is an Indian Summer coming this fall," an organizer wrote on the page. "It looks a lot like an Arab Spring."
It will be interesting to watch the changing of the seasons at the wetlands in the coming weeks.
• In the category of notable commercial sales: It looks like one of Lawrence's more renowned music venues has taken a step to secure its future in downtown Lawrence. According to a filing at the Douglas County Register of Deeds, a company led by Brett Mosiman, owner of The Bottleneck, has purchased the building at 737 New Hampshire, which houses the The Bottleneck. The building was owned by a trust in the name of longtime Lawrence attorney Lance Burr.