More details on gun range planned near Douglas County Jail; Lawrence to get national press as retirement destination
Maybe a gun range is a bit like a barber shop: Every city of a certain size will have at least one. Lawrence businessman Steve Robson has that philosophy anyway, and he says he has just the site for Lawrence’s indoor shooting facility.
Robson — who owns Ace Self Storage and Ace Bail Bonds — has filed plans to build a 12,000 square-foot indoor gun range and gun shop on property he owns near the Douglas County Jail.
“I think the city understands something like this is coming,” Robson said. “There is going to be a gun range in Lawrence, and what better place to have one than in a location where there aren’t really any houses or any schools?”
If some of this sounds familiar, it may be because I wrote about Robson floating the idea of a gun range in December. But at that time, he hadn’t taken any of the steps needed to actually start the project. Now he has.
Robson and Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects have filed a preliminary development plan to allow the facility to be built at 2350 Franklin Road. That is a vacant piece of ground just north of the Ace Bail Bonds office. The property is roughly a block away from the Douglas County Jail.
The other new piece of information since December is that it appears the city has limited options for denying the project, if it so chooses. I did get confirmation from a city official that Robson’s property has the correct zoning for a gun range. Now, the project must meet the various technical requirements related to site layout, parking, landscaping and other such details. But usually the best way to stop a project from being built is to argue that a piece of property isn’t properly zoned for such a use. Indoor gun ranges, though, are allowed in certain types of industrial zoning districts, and Robson’s property already has such a zoning designation.
But obviously the idea has the potential to get political. There is a large debate underway about whether concealed carry should be allowed on the KU campus, in government buildings and elsewhere. Robson hopes politics stays out of his project, but he said he thinks a gun range could appeal even to people who don’t support the concealed carry movement.
“I just think a gun range will make people safer,” Robson said. “I don’t think you ever are going to get guns away from people. Your next best bet is to make people safer with guns.”
Robson said he knows many people who own a gun but don’t have any place to ever shoot it. He said that is not a good situation.
“You need to have a place to get comfortable with a gun,” Robson said.
Robson also had a few more details about what the facility plans to offer. When I chatted with him in December he said the gun range would have 10 shooting lanes. Now, the plan calls for a dozen 25-yard shooting lanes. Plus, the range will be built to accommodate tactical shooting. That means a person would be able to walk up the range and shoot from side to side rather than simply standing at a bench and shooting straight down the range.
Robson also is planning to buy a $60,000 simulator. That is a device that includes a large video screen that will show various scenarios, such as someone robbing a home, and gives users a chance to test their skills in that situation. The user is equipped with a 9MM handgun that fires a laser rather than bullets.
In addition to the shooting lanes and simulator, the facility will offer a variety of classes, Robson said. Plus, about half the facility will be devoted to retail space, including the sale and rental of handguns, assault rifles, ammunition and accessories such as gun safes, scopes, holsters and other types of items
Planning commissioners are scheduled to hear the preliminary development plan in March. If approved, the plan then would go to the City Commission for approval. Robson hopes to be in a position to start construction on the facility in June.
Some of you may be remembering that there was a proposal for another indoor gun range. Lawrence businessman Rick Sells had confirmed plans for an indoor gun range in space at 23rd and Harper, in the building that used to house Bargain Depot. When I last chatted with Sells in December, he was still working to raise funds to get the venture started. I’ll let you know if I hear any more on that.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Lawrence is set to get some national press of a good kind. The city is featured as a “top retirement destination” in the upcoming issue of Where to Retire magazine. The March/April issue lists Lawrence among other destinations.
According to a press release from the magazine, the article touts KU’s basketball history, “pleasant downtown strolls,” an award-winning public library and “cultural bonanzas” such as Pulitzer-Prize winning speakers, NPR show tapings and musical concerts.
The magazine hits the newsstands on Feb. 14.
Kansas ranks low on new list of best places to retire; report predicts job gains for Lawrence in 2016
Perhaps it is our lack of oceans, our dearth of mountains, or — as I’ve been saying is the root of many of the state’s problems — a shortage of Furr’s Cafeterias. Whatever the case, Kansas doesn’t rank very high on the latest list of best places to retire.
Kansas ranks No. 33 on the new list of Best and Worst States to Retire by the financial website WalletHub. That puts Kansas in the lower half of the study, which ranks 51 locations. It includes the District of Columbia, even though it is not a state, and, even more strangely, it also includes Missouri. In fact, Missouri ranked quite a bit higher than Kansas in the study. Only one of our border states fared worse than the Sunflower State. Here’s a look:
— Colorado: No. 5
— Missouri: No. 14
— Oklahoma: No. 19
— Kansas : No. 33
— Nebraska: No. 37
WalletHub measured a variety of data from the Census, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Retirement Living Information Center, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and several other sources. It then ranked the states in three broad categories: affordability, quality of life and health care. Kansas finished in the top half of the ranking in two of the three categories. Kansas finished No. 21 in both the quality of life and the health care ranking. But on the affordability index, we ranked No. 36, and the affordability ranking ended up having the heaviest weight on the state’s overall ranking.
Among the factors looked at for the affordability ranking were an adjusted cost of living; friendliness of taxation on pensions and Social Security; and the annual cost of in-home services. Of our neighbors, only Nebraska had a lower affordability ranking, coming in at No. 40. Oklahoma was the most affordable at No. 13, but it also ranked the worst in the quality of life (No. 41) and health care (No. 39) categories.
The affordability issue is the one that Lawrence leaders often spend time thinking about as they try to position the city to become more of a retiree destination. Local leaders believe the city is well positioned from the standpoint of having above-average quality of life options due to the university and other amenities. It also believes the city’s health care options stack up well. But if the entire state is perceived to have an affordability problem, that will present some challenges.
One area that the study notes Kansas scored particularly well in was a bit surprising: number of museums per capita. Kansas has the third most museums per capita, trailing only New York and California. But, my wife has thrown cold water on that piece of good news. She believes the study’s authors have counted my closet as a museum of 1980s fashion.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but the stock market in 2016 is making retirement sound like a fairy tale where I will resort to kissing a frog who has a better 401(k) than I do. So, we all had better remained focused on employment prospects for awhile. A new report by the United States Conference of Mayors is projecting job growth in Lawrence will be strong in 2016.
The report projects Lawrence will have job growth of 1.9 percent in 2016. That's good for a ranking of 88 out of the 381 metro markets studied. That’s the good news. The bad news is the report is projecting Lawrence’s job growth won’t be quite as strong as it was in 2015. The report estimates 2015 job growth numbers in Lawrence will check in at 2.1 percent. So, in summary, Lawrence’s job growth will be better than many metro areas in 2016, but won’t be as strong as it was a year ago.
Here’s a look at how some area communities are projected to do in 2016:
— No. 35: Manhattan: 2.5 percent in 2016 compared with 2.9 percent in 2015
— No. 88: Lawrence: 1.9 percent in 2016 compared with 2.1 percent in 2015
— No. 99: Wichita: 1.8 percent in 2016 compared with 0.6 percent in 2015
— No. 99: Columbia, Mo.: 1.8 percent in 2016 compared with 2 percent in 2015
— No. 169: Kansas City, Mo.-Kan: 1.3 percent in 2016 compared with 1.8 percent in 2015
— No. 197: Topeka: 1.1 percent in 2016 compared with 0.7 percent in 2015
— No. 288: St. Joseph, Mo: 0.5 percent in 2016 compared with negative 1.2 percent 2015
The report also did an interesting analysis of how long it has taken communities to recover from the recession of 2008-2009. It measured at what point a community’s job totals matched or exceeded job total levels prior to the recession. In Lawrence we finally got back to pre-recession levels in the fourth quarter of 2014. That was pretty consistent with what happened in Topeka and Kansas City, which both got back to even in the third quarter of 2014.
Lawrence company begins manufacturing of specialty bicycles; Douglas County ranks as state’s best retirement community
The sport of bike polo always has confused me and frustrated my horse. (I don’t know if he’s madder about where I put the handlebars or how I lube the chain.) But the sport is becoming a big deal for a Lawrence-based company.
Lawrence-based Fixcraft has begun manufacturing a new bicycle that is specifically designed for bike polo players. Fixcraft — which is a division of Lawrence’s Blue Collar Press — went to market earlier this month with the bike, which it has branded Ad Astra.
What’s different about a bike polo bicycle? Well, it has some special features, like a system that allows both the front and back brakes to be operated with one hand — so the other hand can hold a mallet — and a shorter wheelbase that allows for quicker turns. But the main characteristic is just a heavy-duty design.
“It is a super-strong, overbuilt bike for anyone,” said Sean Ingram, president of Blue Collar. “It is just that bike polo people are notorious for breaking everything. A lot of folks get an old 10-speed and then rip it into pieces. We wanted to provide a bike that will last.”
Ingram said the design work for the Ad Astra occurred both in Lawrence and St. Louis, the headquarters for Tree Bicycle Company, whose founder has been a partner on the project. Sales and shipping operations, however, are based entirely in Lawrence, out of the company’s warehouse and headquarters in the 2200 block of Delaware Street.
Thus far, Ingram said he’s pleased with the early results of the effort. The bike sells for $499 online, and the company also has worked a deal to have it sold in 15 dealer locations across the United States, plus through a network in Germany.
The bicycle is the biggest bike polo venture for Fixcraft, but not the first. The company has been manufacturing a host of apparel and bike polo gear for quite some time. It produces uniforms, mallets, grips, and even is a partner in creating the official ball for the sport.
“We used to say we made everything but the bike, but now we do that too,” Ingram said.
Ingram got into the business after he started playing bike polo about six years ago. If you have never seen the sport, Journal-World photographer and writer Nick Krug did a recent article on it.
Ingram is not just having great fun with the sport, but thinks there’s a chance to grow it into a successful venture. In January, he organized a professional bike polo match in the Expo Center in Topeka. He’s in negotiations with a sports network to broadcast the match.
The bike polo venture has been an interesting evolution for Blue Collar, which primarily has been known as a T-shirt company. But the company has developed a niche as a supplier of a variety of goods for multiple Internet-based retailers. Now, Ingram thinks bike polo has a chance to be a significant part of the company too, once the sport develops a bit bigger following.
“For us, the future is to grow the sport, and we think Lawrence will become the home base of professional bike polo,” Ingram said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It has been my experience that nothing attract retirees in greater numbers than an activity that allows you to legally wield a mallet. Perhaps that is why Lawrence and Douglas County have fared so well in a new ranking of retirement communities.
Douglas County has been named the top retirement community in Kansas, according to a new study published on MSN.com and conducted by its partner FindTheHome.com. The real estate website looked at counties across the country, and then picked the best retirement community in each state based off of factors such as quality of healthcare, housing, entertainment options and other factors. Of the 50 top communities chosen, Douglas County ended up having the 11th best score.
Douglas County scored really well in the quality of healthcare category. It received a score of 92 out of 100, which helped move it up in the rankings. Here’s a look at Douglas County’s full score sheet, with 100 being the top score in each category:
— Care Score (quality of local hospitals, nursing homes and care centers): 92
— Housing Score (median sale prices, percentage of properties with rent under $1,500 per month): 82.5
— Convenience Score (walkability of the community and number of grocery stores and restaurants per capita): 86.7
— Entertainment Score (amount of universities, recreational facilities, libraries and parks per capita): 64.6
— Community Score (percent of the population over age 65 with college degrees): 84
I though you might be interested in seeing how some of our neighbors compare. Here’s a look at the top destinations in our border states. Note, I’m identifying them by the largest city in the county that was ranked because unless you are a geography nerd, you don’t know your counties:
— No. 39 Steamboat Springs, Colo. Care index: 40.5; Housing 85.1; Convenience: 88.6; Entertainment 76; Community 83.7
— No. 36 Stillwater, Okla.: Care index 82.6; Housing 82.8; Convenience 86.9; Entertainment 55.2; Community 81.9
— No. 33 Nebraska City, Neb.: Care index 88.1; Housing 80.4; Convenience 85.1; Entertainment 64.6; Community 81.2
— No. 23 Columbia, Mo.: Care index 91.7; Housing 84.8; Convenience 88.4; Entertainment 50.6; Community 83.7.
You’ll notice with Lawrence and Columbia, the two college towns were pretty close in every category except entertainment. Lawrence’s higher score in that category pushed Lawrence above Columbia in the rankings.
Poor Columbia. And soon basketball season will start, and there really will be a dearth of entertainment.
There have been some changes at Alvamar Country Club that executives with the business say are designed to solidify its future as a locally owned golf and country club.
On March 1, the club ended its relationship with Billy Casper Golf, a management company that widely was viewed as preparing Alvamar for a sale.
At the beginning of the month, Alvamar brought in a new management team, led by former Alvamar executive Bryan Minnis, and signed an agreement with Leawood-based Orion Management Solutions to help with operations of the 36-hole golf and country club in west Lawrence.
Minnis said that with the change Alvamar no longer is listing the courses and club for sale with brokers and is no longer actively marketing the property.
“We’re going to operate it in a way that we may very well own it for the next 25 years,” Minnis said.
The club is owned by Alvamar Inc., the company founded by the late powerhouse Lawrence developer Bob Billings. The company has about 100 shareholders, including Minnis, who has served on Alvamar’s board. Minnis said that as those shareholders die and leave their shares to heirs, that is not the ideal ownership situation for the club. He said ultimately the ownership situation of the club likely will change, but the new philosophy is to let that process evolve more naturally.
“Alvamar is not for sale, but it could be bought,” Minnis said. “If the right buyer came along, we would have those discussions.”
But Minnis said he hopes the new direction of the club proves that the business isn’t in a holding pattern. Renovations are under way on the Alvamar clubhouse, including a complete remodel of the bar, and a new Bob Billings Banquet Room and a new “fireside lounge” honoring Charlie Oldfather, another of the club’s founders. The club also is examining the feasibility of an expansion that would add a new pool and fitness area.
On the golf course, new white silica sand is being added to the sand traps. (Alvamar has sand traps? I’ve never gotten out of the trees and the ponds.)
Minnis, who once served as Alvamar’s director of golf and sales/marketing before Billy Casper took over about two years ago, said there are no current plans to convert the 18-hole public course over to a fully private facility.
Alvamar has one private course and one public course, and there had been discussion under Billy Casper’s management to convert the public course to a members-only facility. But Minnis said he doesn’t believe that will be necessary until the club reaches about 800 golfing members. Currently, it has about 500 golfing members.
Minnis also confirmed that the company has been approached by developers interested in developing some types of retirement communities near the course. Minnis said Alvamar hasn’t ruled out the idea but isn’t actively pursuing it at the moment.
“The question really is whether it is possible.” Minnis said. “Do we have enough developable land internally, could it be approved, what would the impact be on Alvamar and the surrounding neighborhood? We don’t have plans of initiating anything ourselves, but we know their is interest from some developers in the community.”
In addition to Minnis, the new management team includes several other people who have worked in the area golf industry. They include:
• Eric Magnuson, director of golf, who previously was worked at Moila Shrine Country Club in St. Joseph, Mo., and was an assistant professional at Lawrence Country Club.
• Paul Hooser, director of instruction, who came from Overland Park’s city-owned golf courses.
• Jen Nuessen, dining and event services director, who previously has been with Adams Pointe Golf Club in Blue Springs, Mo., and the Shawnee Country Club in Topeka.