The wait is over for a commercial project to locate next to the city and KU’s Rock Chalk Park sports complex in northwest Lawrence. Developers have announced they’ve signed a deal for a $14.5 million hotel project.
A Wichita group has plans to build a 120-room Best Western Plus hotel on the property, which is just south of KU’s track and field stadium and the city’s Sports Pavilion Lawrence recreation center and fieldhouse.
More importantly, the hotel project represents the first commercial development to happen at the property. City officials have been eagerly awaiting commercial development to occur at the site, after having invested about $23 million in public money to build the parking and other infrastructure for the Rock Chalk Park sports complex. The sports complex was envisioned to be a magnet for commercial development, but the commercially-zoned land has sat empty since the sports complex opened in late 2014.
“We’re excited to be the lead-off tenant in this project,” Steve Martens, CEO of The Martens Companies and its hotel subsidiary, Hospitality Development of America, said in a release.
Martens, who is a 1975 graduate of KU, said he’s enjoyed watching the “dynamic and quality growth in west Lawrence” over the past several years. He said the new hotel will be designed to tap into two key markets in Lawrence: travelers coming for athletic events, and families with teens touring potential college locations.
The Best Western Plus brand features an indoor pool and an expanded fitness area and emphasizes an open, airy design in rooms and public areas of the hotel. The hotel will be operated by Hospitality Management LLC, which operates four other Best Western and Choice Hotel properties in Kansas and Oklahoma. It recently opened a Best Western Plus in Norman, Okla., next to to the University of Oklahoma campus.
Plans call for the hotel to be near the southwest corner of George Williams Way and Rock Chalk Drive, or basically right at the entrance of the sports complex.
The property slated for the hotel already has the necessary zoning for the project to proceed. Look for construction of the four-story building to begin this summer, and for it to open in early 2018.
It will be interesting to watch whether this hotel development serves as a catalyst for more development to come. The area near Rock Chalk Park can accommodate several hundred thousand square feet of retail development. Local businessmen Steve Schwada and Tim Fritzel are leading the group that is trying to attract tenants to the property.
The site is one of the few in town that is properly zoned to accommodate big box retailers, and the development group hasn’t been shy in making it known that it has tried to court Costco for the site. But several big box retailers — Menards and Dick’s Sporting Goods, to name two — have bypassed the property in favor of the south Iowa Street corridor.
Pat Peery, a broker with Kansas City based Lane 4 Property Group, is part of the team that has been hired to market the property to potential retailers. The hotel project is welcome news for their efforts to lure retailers to the site.
“I think it certainly will help,” Peery said. “We are glad to have a hotel. It always was in our plan to have at least one hotel. We still have a couple of major retail businesses that are considering the location. We are anticipating at some point we’ll be able to make an announcement on that front. And when that happens, that really will help things along.”
Retail developers have expressed concern that the property near Sixth Street and George Williams Way doesn’t yet have enough homes around it, but that is changing. Single-family homes are being built in the Oregon Trail addition just east of the property, and nearly 600 living units worth of apartments are being built just east of Rock Chalk Park as part of new golf course/apartment development.
“The more rooftops you have, the better the site shows,” Peery said. “And it is showing better all the time. We have had a large number of inquiries from out-of-town developers.”
Peery said the property’s selling points for retailers are that it has good access to Sixth Street and to the now-completed South Lawrence Trafficway.
“The growth on the west side of town is very positive,” Peery said. “It is where the future is heading, and people can see that.”
Peery said the site’s location also allows it to market to retailers who want to attract the eastern Topeka market. He said that was a selling point for the hotel project. The hotel company believes it is close enough to the Kansas Statehouse to compete well with hotels that are situated on the far west side of Topeka.
Thus far, the traffic generated by Rock Chalk Park hasn’t been a big selling point for traditional retailers. the amount of traffic coming and going from the complex isn’t likely to be enough to be a deciding factor on whether a big box store locates at the site. But Peery said the sports complex traffic will be a major selling point for restaurants. He predicts several restaurants will want to locate on the property, but he said the development needs that first big retailer to come in and build out infrastructure before the group can aggressively market to restaurants.
Getting that first big retailer is always the hardest part of any development. But if the first retailer — especially if it is a big one like a Costco — does come, the area is poised to be a major shopping area.
One concept plan that often is pitched to potential tenants shows a 140,000 square foot big box store on one end, a 100,000 square foot store on the other, with space for 13 other smaller retailers in between. In total, the concept plan shows about 640,000 square feet of commercial space around about 3,000 parking spaces.
The concept plan is almost certain to change, as the hotel project will require some alterations, but it does give you an idea of the scope of development the group is hoping for. As for the timing of when the next major announcement may come at the site, Peery directed me to Schwada. I haven’t yet heard back from him, but I’ll let you know if I do.
Rock Chalk Park project mentioned in city allegations against Oread hotel taxing district; Uber gets new competitor in Lawrence
An old name has popped up in the city’s new lawsuit alleging a fraudulent tax scheme related to The Oread hotel. The name: Rock Chalk Park.
If you haven’t already, read LJWorld reporter Rochelle Valverde’s excellent account of what’s included in the city’s lawsuit against Thomas Fritzel and his entity Oread Wholesale. I also spent some time going over the many pages of documents released by the city yesterday. Among those was a new audit report produced on the city’s behalf, and that audit had a brief reference to Rock Chalk Park work.
In a nutshell, the Rock Chalk Park reference created questions about whether a Fritzel-led entity had improperly charged the city sales tax for construction materials used at Rock Chalk Park. When I asked the city about it, the city attorney said there was little she could say about the matter currently.
I’ll give you more details in a moment, but as a reminder, Thomas Fritzel — a defendant in this new lawsuit — was at the center of a controversial public-private partnership with the city and the University of Kansas to build the Rock Chalk Park sports complex in northwest Lawrence. The previous city commission and administration paid a Fritzel-led firm more than $20 million as part of the partnership, which included about a $12 million no-bid contract that was given to Fritzel’s construction company.
The audit report released Wednesday included an exhibit that listed transactions that the city alleges were improperly credit to The Oread hotel’s special taxing districts. The exhibit listed three deliveries that were made to Rock Chalk Park addresses. One of the deliveries was noted as “concrete products,” while the exhibit didn’t list what the other two deliveries involved.
What we don’t know currently is whether those Rock Chalk Park deliveries had a sales tax charge attached to them. That’s a key question because it seems clear that construction products used at Rock Chalk Park were exempt from sales tax. If sales tax were charged, it would create a question of whether the city was paying more for construction materials than it should have.
To be clear, the audit report doesn’t tell us whether that was the case. But it did cause me to have the question, so I asked it of the city. City Attorney Toni Wheeler did confirm that sales tax should not be charged on construction materials used at Rock Chalk Park. But when I asked whether sales taxes were charged on the Rock Chalk Park items, or whether the city had any concern that it was improperly charged a sales tax as part of the construction project, Wheeler said she was unable to comment on those matters due to the pending litigation.
The city has the invoices. They were included as Exhibit No. 2 of the recent audit. However, the city removed that exhibit from the audit report before it was released to the public. I asked if the city could make the invoices available for review, and Wheeler declined.
Again, it is too early to know what to make of this. But given the questions of the financial accounting of the Rock Chalk Park project, it seemed like an issue worth noting.
I guess one thing that the lawsuit has made clear is that Oread Wholesale — the company the city is now accusing of defrauding the city — was involved to some degree in the Rock Chalk Park project. Worth watching.
In other news and notes from around town:
• In some people’s books, Lawrence has just become hipper. If you remember, there were people who said Lawrence’s hipness factor got a boost back in April 2015 when Uber announced it would bring its ride-sharing service to Lawrence. Well, now there is news that Uber’s main competitor also has started service in Lawrence.
The ride-sharing company Lyft has announced that it is launching service in Lawrence and Kansas City at noon today. Lyft operates much like Uber. You use a digital app to schedule a ride with a Lyft driver who uses his or her own car — as opposed to an official taxi — to pick you up and deliver you to your location.
Lyft’s service territory includes all of Lawrence, south to the Gardner area, north to the Lansing area, and all of the KC metro that is on the Kansas side of the state line. Lyft noted that it will not provide service into Missouri.
As for rates, thus far Lyft and Uber seem to be pretty comparable. Both companies have rate estimators on their websites. A trip from 31st and Iowa to Sixth and Massachusetts in downtown Lawrence was estimated at $7 to $10 on Uber’s site. It was estimated at $9 on Lyft’s.
Health club buys west Lawrence tennis center; plans advance for tennis expansion at Rock Chalk Park; more on Menards
This is indeed the weekend when many in Lawrence will start to shift their attention from that sport played with the funny shaped ball to one played with a round ball. That’s right. It is time to turn our focus to tennis. What? What were you thinking, and why do you have Beware of the Phog written on your forehead? Maybe you have something else on your mind, but tennis is where some multimillion dollar developments are occurring.
As we reported in July, KU Athletics is working on a deal to build a new 78,000-square-foot tennis center complete with six indoor courts and six outdoor courts at Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence. At the time, KU officials said they weren’t sure what they would do with the university’s existing tennis center at 5200 Clinton Parkway in west Lawrence.
Well, it now looks like Genesis Health Clubs is going to get into the tennis business in Lawrence. The company has bought the Jayhawk Tennis Center and a vacant piece of ground next to the tennis center, according to land transfer filings at the Douglas County Courthouse. I’ve been hearing for weeks that Genesis was working on a deal to purchase the tennis center, and I’ve tried to get folks to talk to me about it. But they’ve avoided my phone calls like John McEnroe avoids pleasantries with a line judge. I’ve got a call into them now that the sale has been completed, so hopefully I’ll hear back and have more information to report.
When I originally heard of the deal, I assumed Genesis was buying the building in order to convert it into a far west Lawrence fitness center. But members at Genesis say they’ve been told the idea is to use the building as a tennis center. Who knows, maybe there also will be a fitness center component to the facility as well, and the vacant land gives the company quite a few options.
If the idea is to maintain it as a tennis center, that could get interesting. KU officials tell me their plans very much include selling public memberships to the new tennis center at Rock Chalk Park. If Genesis does so as well at Clinton Parkway, Lawrence will have two public tennis centers. As I’ve long said, there’s a reason why the inventor of tennis is buried in Lawrence. Am I confused again?
In all seriousness, I am told Lawrence does have a pretty active tennis community. The new facility at Rock Chalk Park certainly could put Lawrence in the running to host some sizable tennis events. Jim Marchiony, an associate athletic director at KU, said the new facility would give the university a chance to host the Big 12 Championships in Lawrence. The last time KU won the right to host the Big 12 meet, it used courts in the Plaza area of Kansas City, Marchiony said.
Marchiony said KU would make the facility available to noncollegiate tennis tournaments and events as well. The new facility could be paired with the eight existing lighted, outdoor tennis courts that are owned by the city and are adjacent to the city’s recreation center at Rock Chalk Park.
KU’s tennis center basically will just be at the other end of the parking lot from those courts. Plans call for the tennis center to be on the southern end of Rock Chalk Park, just south of KU’s soccer field.
In addition to the six indoor courts and six outdoor courts, plans call for the center to have an elevated seating area that can accommodate about 500 spectators in the indoor facility. The center also will have an expanded locker room for the KU women’s tennis team, and a special members lounge and locker room, according to Paul Werner, the Lawrence-based architect designing the project.
The new facility will be a significant upgrade over the current facility at Clinton Parkway. That facility has five indoor courts, limited spectator seating, and spectators often can’t see the play that is happening on all courts.
Marchiony said KU hopes to be able to move into the new center in time for the start of the KU women’s spring 2017 season. Marchiony said KU has struck a deal to continue playing at the Clinton Parkway facility in the interim.
As we previously reported in July, the KU tennis center at Rock Chalk Park will be built using a public-private partnership that is similar to what KU used to build its track and field, soccer and softball facilities at Rock Chalk Park. The tennis facility will be owned by an entity led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel. The Fritzel entity — Bliss Sports — also owns the track and field, soccer and softball facilities, but leases them to KU Athletics, although the Fritzel entity retains some rights to use the facilities for private uses.
The sale of the Clinton Parkway property is reflective of that partnership. KU Athletics — and its related entity Jayhawk Tennis Center LLC — did not directly sell the center to Genesis Health Clubs. Instead KU Athletics sold the property to Fritzel’s Bliss Sports. Bliss Sports later that day then sold the property to Genesis Health Clubs.
Marchiony said KU Athletics made the decision to sell the property to Bliss, and left it to Bliss to decide what it wanted to do with the property. Terms of the deal between Bliss and KU Athletics weren’t disclosed, but Marchiony said it was a fair market transaction.
As for the Rock Chalk tennis center, it already has won a positive recommendation from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. It now needs to win special use permit approval from the Lawrence City Commission. That appears to be a pretty straightforward approval. There have been no requests for tax incentives or for financial participation from the city, which would complicate the approval process at City Hall. I look for the project to be on the City Commission’s agenda in the next few weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I reported earlier this week that I thought we would get an announcement from Menards soon on the opening date for its new store near 31st and Iowa. I also told you that I had heard from some folks that Oct. 20 was a likely date. Since that report, I have heard from more employees of the store who say they definitely have been told to prepare for an Oct. 21 opening, although there may be some activity of a special nature on Oct. 20 as well. Like I said earlier, we should get an official announcement next week.
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.
Developers seek new zoning to lure retailers next to Rock Chalk Park; new Douglas County income numbers and the pocket of poverty
There are all types of competition going on at Rock Chalk Park and the city’s new recreation center: Volleyball, basketball, indoor soccer, pizza eating at the concession stand, senior citizen drag racing on the walking track and . . . well, perhaps I shouldn’t continue. But there’s also a competition to get new retailers to locate near the northwest Lawrence facility, and there are signs developers are working on a new strategy on that front.
The developers of the vacant Mercato commercial and residential development just south of Rock Chalk Park have filed new zoning plans for the property. The developers, led by the Schwada and Fritzel families, are seeking a broad community commercial zoning designation for the approximately 120 acres south of the sports complex. Currently, the land is zoned as a mix of commercial, single-family, office and multifamily zoning categories.
After talking with a planner in the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, it appears the gist of this application is to give the development group more flexibility on how it designs the commercial areas of the property. The site long has been envisioned for commercial development. In fact, it is one of the few sites in town that already have the proper zoning in place to accommodate big box retailers. But the property has sat vacant for several years, in no small part because the economy took a turn for the worse at about the time the project came on the market.
One key point to remember is that all the zoning on the property occurred prior to the idea of Rock Chalk Park locating on the adjacent tract to the north. As a result, the current plans call for a significant amount of single-family housing along the southern border of Rock Chalk Park. The new zoning would eliminate that single-family housing and would allow commercial development to occur in the area closest to Rock Chalk Park. In fact, the new zoning would eliminate the possibility of any single-family housing on the property. It would, however, still allow for apartment development to occur on the site.
Being able to rearrange the configuration of commercial development on the site seems to be a big part of the new zoning request. The new zoning it seems would give the developers more flexibility in designing a commercial project that would take better advantage of the crowds being generated at Rock Chalk Park.
But thus far, planners tell me the requested zoning doesn’t seek a change in the total amount of retail square footage the development is seeking. A cap of 360,000 square feet is still in place, which is enough to accommodate several big box retailers and restaurants and such. Or, it could accommodate many more smaller midsize retailers. It will be interesting to see what strategy the development group pursues.
The economy has picked back up, and retailers are taking a new look at Lawrence. There has been a lot of interest in south Iowa Street. A proposal to build a large retail area just south of the Iowa Street and SLT interchange is still alive and supposedly has interest from a Sam’s Club and other retailers. When it makes its way to the City Commission hearing, however is a bit uncertain. Interest also is picking up in some south Iowa Street areas that could be redeveloped. That includes the shopping center that houses the soon-to-depart Discovery Furniture. I’m also keeping my eyes open for possible redevelopment near the southwest corner of 23rd and Iowa streets. As we have reported, real estate transactions have shown some consolidation of properties in that area.
But the northwest area now has Rock Chalk Park up and running and can show some new traffic patterns to retailers. City officials told me that the recreation center had attendance of more than 6,000 people per day on both Saturday and Sunday, when a tournament was at the facility. The city has a lot of recreation classes and leagues at the center, which is driving daily traffic as well. We’ll see whether that gets retailers to take a new look at the area. I’m sure it will help, but it is hard to say whether it will cause any retailers to pull the trigger on a deal. The area still doesn’t have the synergy that south Iowa Street has with other retailers, but, of course, that’s always the case with a new area until some retailer makes the jump to be the first.
A bigger issue may be whether retailers can forecast what type of housing development will happen around the site. There is no doubt that the property generally south and east of the Rock Chalk site will develop with housing and apartments. New single-family home construction is already underway just southeast of the project. But figuring out what will happen to large amounts of property to the north of the Rock Chalk site is still difficult. As we’ve reported, most of that ground to the north of the sports complex is in the Perry-Lecompton school district. I still have local Realtors telling me that they believe that will greatly slow residential development in that area because the schools in the Perry-Lecompton district are farther away than schools in the Lawrence district.
We’ll see how it shakes out, but rest assured that there is a lot going on behind the scenes right now to get retailers next to Rock Chalk Park.
In other news and notes from around town:
• When it comes to attracting retailers to town, there is one number that probably doesn’t help us much: our per capita income. The federal government today has released the latest numbers for per capita income by county, and Douglas County is still near the bottom of the list in Kansas.
Per capita personal income in Douglas County — that is everything from wages to stock dividends to Social Security payments — was $36,911 in 2013. Out of the 105 counties in Kansas, Douglas County checked in at No. 91.
For years, people have kind of discounted Douglas County’s low per capita income numbers because we have a number of university students who don’t really earn much money but rather live off support from their parents. That brings the per capita average down. That is certainly a factor, but it probably doesn’t tell the whole story of why Douglas County is near the bottom in this category.
Riley County, for example, has a per capita income of $43,603, and ranks No. 52 in the state. Riley County and Douglas County aren’t twins — Riley County has a lot more military wages in its economy — but it is still galling to think that the average person in K-State country has about $7,000 more per year than those of us in Jayhawk land.
In fact, there are lots of us around Douglas County who are near the bottom of the per capita income list. It is like there is a little pocket of poverty between Kansas City and Topeka, and Douglas County is right in the middle of it. Here is what I mean:
• Franklin County: $36,156, No. 94
• Jefferson County: $36,809, No. 92
• Leavenworth County: $37,484, No. 89
• Osage County: $35,744, No. 95
All those counties border Douglas County. And the county with the lowest per capita income almost borders Douglas County: Wyandotte County with per capita income of $29,996 and a rank of No. 105. Low-earning college students aren’t bringing down the average in any of those counties. Maybe there is something larger going on here.
There are two counties that border Douglas County that are doing quite a bit better. The big one, to no one’s surprise, is Johnson County. It has per capita income of $60,068. Remember, that is for every man, woman and child in the county. That ranks No. 8 in the state. Shawnee County has per capita income of $41,598, which ranks No. 64, which is still below the midpoint but is quite a bit better than where we stand.
If you are looking for something good, per capita income did at least grow in 2013. In Douglas County it increased by 1.5 percent. The bad news with that number, though, is the national average was closer to 2 percent. Our growth rate also didn’t fare well when compared with others in the state. Out of 105 counties, our growth rate ranked No. 82.
In case you are wondering who has the highest per capita income in the state, pack your bags for Greeley County. The far western Kansas county had per capita income of $73,877. Of course they don’t have to share their money with many. There are fewer than 1,500 people in the county, which is right along the Colorado border. But the county is noteworthy in this report because it had the largest per capita gain in personal income of any county in the entire country. Income jumped by 30.3 percent. I assume oil, gas and agriculture have been leading the income growth there, or perhaps some statistician made an error with his abacus. If the numbers are to be believed, the average Greeley County Joe has about $17,000 more in 2013 than he had in 2012.
The county’s namesake, Horace Greeley, was correct: Go west, young man. And take a vault (and pictures of trees) with you.
Recreation center at Rock Chalk Park attracts more than 50k visits in first month; another development plan filed for south Iowa
If you see a bunch of grown men wearing high school letter jackets that accentuate just how much they have grown, perhaps you’ll now understand why: Adult flag football. It is the latest thing to come to the city’s new recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. But it certainly isn’t the only thing. Lots of people have been filing into the new center, according to recently tabulated numbers from the city.
From Oct. 5 through Nov. 9, the center — officially named Sports Pavilion Lawrence — has attracted 53,101 visits, according to numbers tallied by the city’s parks and recreation department. More specifically, the center has been attracting an average of 2,060 visits per day on the weekends, and about 1,300 visits on an average weekday.
But those numbers are likely larger now, said Ernie Shaw, the city’s director of parks and recreation. He said it has only been within the last week or so that the center has started hosting league play for volleyball, basketball and other sports. Those sports have increased the number of users at the facility significantly. Shaw was at the facility last Saturday and had staff members keep track of visitor totals on that day. By around noon, the center’s visitor total was at about 4,500.
“It has been crazy out there, but the staff and everybody are doing well with it,” said Tim Laurent, recreation operations manager.
Another number of note is that the city has issued 6,844 electronic key cards to residents. The key cards are used to access the fitness rooms, walking track and other such areas that can be cordoned off to keep out kids and other people who are at the center for a youth basketball tournament, for example.
Speaking of tournaments, none of these numbers include people coming to the center for big tournaments. Those will begin in the next few weeks, with the first big one that will occupy most of the center occurring in early January. Those tournaments have been touted as the economic development portion of the recreation center project. The hope is that the tournaments will become regional enough in nature that some folks will choose to spend the night in Lawrence and spend some money during their down times.
Most of the numbers being generated at the center currently are from local residents participating in parks and recreation classes and leagues. The department has added some new activities (calm down, don’t swallow your mouthpiece, I’ll tell you more about adult flag football in a moment,) and the department also has moved some classes from other recreation centers in town to Rock Chalk Park.
In this current session, the city has 161 programs at Sports Pavilion Lawrence, with about 2,300 participants signed up. But that number will grow. The city is taking registration for the winter and spring programs, and during that session there will be 329 programs at SPL.
There’s also going to be some nonsporting events at the center. The first one you may notice is the Holiday Extravaganza Arts and Crafts Fair on Dec. 6. Recently it has been held at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. But the event is moving to the Rock Chalk Park center, where vendors will set up on two of the eight courts that are the facility. The city has tarps that can be put down on the floors to protect them from damage. The move will allow the arts and crafts event to grow. At the fairgrounds, the city had to cap the number of vendors at 80. Now the city can accept significantly more vendors, and thus far the city has 97 vendors signed up for the event. It will be interesting to see how often the center is used for nonsporting events. The fairgrounds hosts several types of exhibitions, ranging from home shows to Comic-Con conventions. Rock Chalk Park would allow for larger events, and it has some of the most ample parking in the community. Plus, the city is creating a built-in marketing system for such events. Because people are required to get a key card to use certain areas of the facility, the city is building up a substantial database of e-mails (they ask for your e-mail address when you register.) The city is able to use that database to send out a e-mail blast about upcoming events at the center.
No word yet on whether they will send out e-mail blasts detailing the heroic exploits that occur on the flag football field. Registration is underway for the league, which will be played indoors at the recreation center, which features an indoor turf field. Costs are $370 per team. Each team will play with five players, but roster sizes are unlimited. (I’m assuming the number of oxygen tanks on the sidelines are unlimited as well.) Games will be held on Sunday afternoons, and play begins Jan. 11. Participants need to be 16 or older.
That ought to add to the excitement at the center. I hear that the facility already is a ball of noise on weekends. I can hardly imagine how much louder it will get when the crowds react to the parade of glorious letter jackets. Heaven help us if a highly decorated letter jacket from the mighty Marais des Cygnes Valley Trojans appears. (See below. I would have modeled it, but it is tight in an area that I will call the biceps, although anatomy was never my best subject.)
In other news and notes from around town:
• The commercial momentum on south Iowa Street continues to build. Plans have been filed to redevelop the site at 24th and Iowa streets that previously housed a Phillips 66 service station. Plans call for about $125,000 worth of work to remodel the building into a more traditional office/retail building. Property owner Brandon Haverty told me he wasn’t quite ready to announce the tenant. But based on information filed with the city, it appears a Georgia-based firm called Anderson Financial Services is the tenant. A source called Mr. Google tells me the company primarily operates LoanMax Title Loan businesses across the country. Again, no official word on whether that is what is slated for the spot, but it might be worth keeping an eye on. Haverty said he expects the site to be ready for business in the first quarter of 2015.
If it indeed is a title loan place, that may be what they call synergy in the business world. Lots of retailers, lots of cars going by, which of course equals one thing: I really do need to fit into my letter jacket so I can stay warm on my walks to work.
City begins moving in at Rock Chalk Park; leaders vying to bring Junior Olympics to sports complex; Jayhawks and Free State beer best known Kansas brands
Stretch those hamstrings, wash the cutoff jean shorts, fill the oxygen bottles, and order the plaster of paris for the full-body casts. In other words, make all the standard arrangements to play some pick-up basketball. The day is soon coming when the city’s new recreation center at Rock Chalk Park will be ready to host you and your buddies.
City officials have confirmed that the move-in process has begun this week at the 181,000 square-foot, eight-gym facility that is just northeast of the Sixth Street and South Lawrence Trafficway interchange. But City Manager David Corliss told me the city hasn’t yet decided on a date that the center will open its doors to the public.
“We still believe we're going to be able to have classes there later in the month,” Corliss said.
Originally, the city had planned to have the center open this week, but as we reported a couple of weeks ago, those plans were pushed back by construction delays. Parks and Recreation director Ernie Shaw told me a few weeks ago there likely would be a soft opening in September and then a grand opening celebration sometime in early October. No dates have been set yet, but I’m guessing that is still the plan.
That will be a big celebration. I think the community is eager to get out and see the facility, which in addition to the eight gyms also has an indoor turf field, an indoor walking track, gymnastics, dance, fitness rooms, outdoor tennis courts and an extensive trail system. But perhaps one of the more important times for the Rock Chalk Park complex will come a couple of months later, in the dead of winter.
The city’s top recruiter of sporting events has confirmed to me that in December a delegation from the mega-youth sporting organization AAU will be in town to consider Lawrence as a site to host a future AAU Junior Olympic Games. Board members from AAU will be touring the Rock Chalk Park complex, with particular emphasis on the track and field facilities.
The tour is part of a process the city expects to go through to submit a formal bid to host a Junior Olympics. If the city could land the event, it would transform a lazy Lawrence summer into a major economic development boon. Bob Sanner, the sports marketing manager for the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Olympics would be a six-day event that would bring 15,000 athletes and their parents and family to the city.
“It would be like Lawrence having multiple sell-out football games in a row,” Sanner said. “It would create that much revenue.”
The event recently took place in Des Moines, Iowa, and the 2015 Junior Olympics are set for July 29 through Aug. 8 in Hampton Roads, Va. I’m not sure that a site has been selected yet for 2016.
It is too early to say what Lawrence’s chances are of landing the big event. But the Rock Chalk Park track and field stadium was designed to be one of the top track and field stadiums in the country. And Lawrence definitely is on the radar screen of AAU leaders. The delegation will be touring the Rock Chalk Park facility in December because they’ll be in town for AAU’s National Cross Country Championships, which will be held at Rim Rock Farms north of Lawrence. That will be the largest AAU event the city has hosted since the mid-1980s, Sanner said.
The cross country national championships will be a nice piece of business for restaurants, hotels and others during what is traditionally a slow winter period. I don’t have estimates yet on how large the meet is expected to be in Lawrence, but the 2013 National Championships were held in Evans, Ga., and officials there estimated it would bring about 1,200 athletes, plus their families to the area. The folks in Evans, which is just outside of Augusta, Ga., were estimating an economic impact of about $350,000 for the community.
We’ll give you more details about what Lawrence has planned for the National Championship event as it gets closer.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There will be plenty of items to keep an eye on as the Rock Chalk Park recreation center opens. I’m sure the city will be in the running for multiple tournaments and events. But it also will be worth keeping an eye on our neighbors to the east. If you have followed the news in Kansas City, you know that quite a debate is going on right now about whether to convert Kemper Arena into a major youth sports complex. A private development group has proposed an approximately $20 million renovation of the facility. The group is proposing 12 basketball courts, the “area’s largest indoor running track,” and space for indoor soccer, lacrosse, rugby, volleyball, boxing, martial arts, rowing and bicycling clubs. The group is projecting the facility would attract 1,000 kids per night and would draw tournaments that would bring 500,000 visitors a year to the facility.
The proposal is competing with a plan from the American Royal, which wants to tear down Kemper and build an events center that would complement American Royal activities. I don’t understand Kansas City politics (I’m waiting for the ghost of Tom Pendergast to come and explain it to me), but media reports indicate the youth fieldhouse has some support among Kansas City council members and some investors in the area. The fieldhouse proposal is asking for less money than the American Royal, and some preservationists are concerned about tearing down Kemper Arena.
I don’t know how any of this will turn out, but it does seem clear that Lawrence has entered a competitive industry. Proposals to build youth sports complexes to try and attract youth sporting tournaments are popping up in multiple locations. A plan to build a large youth sports fieldhouse in Wichita won a major round of approval last month.
The Wichita Eagle reported that the Wichita City Council unanimously approved a development agreement for what is expected to be a $120 million sports-themed park at K-96 and Greenwich in Wichita. The anchor tenant for that development will be GoodSports Fieldhouse, a 65,000 square-foot building that will have 12 full-sized basketball courts and 24 volleyball courts. It intends to go after regional and national youth tournaments for basketball, volleyball, indoor soccer, wrestling and other sports. That, of course, is also what Lawrence officials plan to do with Rock Chalk Park. The Wichita center is projected to draw 300,000 visitors per year.
Lawrence is beating both of these projects to the punch. The Wichita fieldhouse likely won’t be open until early 2016. But the Wichita one will be interesting to watch. Reports indicate it already has a commitment for a 150-room hotel that will be adjacent to the fieldhouse. The Rock Chalk Park area is still struggling to attract the retail and hotel development that is hoped for in the area, although private developers recently have hired a new brokerage firm to better market the commercial area near Rock Chalk.
Apparently, though, Wichita has more pull at the Kansas Statehouse than Lawrence does. The area surrounding the Wichita fieldhouse has been designated as a STAR bond area by the state. That means the sales taxes collected by businesses in the district can be used directly to fund the development of entertainment and tourism areas in the district. STAR bonds are a powerful incentive. They played a major role in the development around the NASCAR track in Wyandotte County. Local officials did not pursue STAR bonds as part of the Rock Chalk Park project.
• Speaking of Wichita, a Wichita-based marketing firm has made an interesting finding: The two best-known brand names in Kansas are both based in Lawrence. They’re the Kansas Jayhawks and Free State Beer.
The Wichita-based firm RSA Marketing Services released the findings of its first Kansas Brand Power consumer survey. The firm asked more than 500 Kansans to name the brand they believe is most well known across the state. The Jayhawk brand took the top spot, and was the only university mascot to make the top 10. Perhaps surprising to some is that Free State beer took the No. 2 spot. The ranking highlights just how important The Free State Brewing Co. has become in Lawrence’s economy. I think some people still think of the company as just the iconic brewpub in downtown Lawrence. That is how it has built its name over the years, but since 2010 the company has been bottling its beer. It is now in every Kansas county that has a liquor store, and has started to sell in some adjacent states as well. The strength of its brand certainly gives the company some intriguing growth possibilities. And since the beer is actually brewed, bottled and produced all in Lawrence, that creates some exciting possibilities for Lawrence too.
As for the complete list of best-known Kansas brands, here you go:
Free State Beer
Coleman and Pizza Hut were founded in Kansas and used to have their headquarters here, but no longer do. Boulevard is based in Kansas City, Mo., but if you drink enough of Boulevard’s product, state lines get a little fuzzy.
This list isn’t highly scientific, but it is interesting. You can create your own. As for me, I think I’ll set out to have a classic Kansas weekend. I’ll watch the Jayhawks on Saturday night, consume some Free State Beer and Pizza Hut pizza. Then I’ll likely be asked to sleep in a Coleman tent in the backyard after a certain someone in my house has decided I’ve had too much Free State beer and Pizza Hut pizza.
City now has new opening date in mind for Rock Chalk Park recreation center; update on ice rink idea for downtown plaza
It appears I will have a couple of extra weeks to first find my hamstring and then stretch it out. A city official has confirmed to me that plans to open the city’s recreation center at Rock Chalk Park on Sept. 2 won’t be happening.
Ernie Shaw, the city’s director of parks and recreation, said city officials now believe that Sept. 2 will be the date that city officials can start moving into the 181,000 square foot center that will feature eight full-sized gyms, a walking track, fitness center, indoor turf field and other amenities. Shaw said he anticipates there could be a “soft opening” of the facility to the public in mid-September and that a grand opening would occur sometime in October.
City officials previously had circled Sept. 2 on their calendars, and had scheduled several fall parks and recreation classes to begin on that date at the center. Shaw said the department now plans to push the start date of those classes back by a few weeks. He said the department is in the process of notifying people who have enrolled in those classes of the new start dates.
Some of the classes that use gym space may be the among the last to get started. Shaw said wood flooring is still being installed in several of the gyms, and sanding and striping of the courts are just now beginning.
But Shaw said the delay isn’t expected to cause any major problems. He said department officials always knew with a project this size that a few delays could happen.
“Really, I don’t think the work could be going any better than it is right now,” Shaw said of the project that is being built by Lawrence-based Gene Fritzel Construction. “We just made a decision that we want to do this right, and we want to open the center right the first time.”
Shaw said city officials also are working to finalize hours for the new center. Shaw said there is discussion of opening the Rock Chalk center at 5:30 a.m., which would be about an hour earlier than most of the city’s other recreation centers open. Shaw said he expects the indoor walking/jogging track at the center will create more demand for early-morning users. Shaw said it is likely that the center also will be open until 10 p.m. or 10:30 p.m. at night to accommodate practices, league games and other such activities. But he said the city may be open to reserving space at the center even later, if there is a demand for it. Hours of operation are expected to be finalized in the next few weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Shaw also confirmed that plans to add an artificial ice rink to the plaza area between the library and the city’s parking garage are still alive. The city recently accepted bids for the rink equipment, and Shaw said the prices came in around the $100,000 mark that city officials had been expecting. Those bids are expected to show up on a future Lawrence City Commission meeting for consideration.
As we’ve previously reported, the ice rink would be seasonal. Plans call for city crews to install the special ice-like material so that skating could begin around the Thanksgiving period and last through the Christmas holiday season. Shaw said he expects city commissioners to make a decision soon on whether to proceed with the ice rink idea, which officials hope will bring more visitors to downtown. Shaw said installation work likely would need to begin in October to have the rink ready for this upcoming holiday season.
As for other work in the plaza area, crews are continuing to pour some concrete and do some landscaping in the area. I’ve been told concrete work could wrap up by the end of this month. Sodding of the area likely would take place this fall. The portion of the plaza closest to Vermont Street will be a concrete area that could accommodate the ice rink, stages, or other such items for events in the plaza. The portion of the plaza that slopes downward toward Kentucky Street would be a grass area that could serve as a seating area or host other types of events.
• If you are interested in the idea of Ninth Street becoming an arts corridor in East Lawrence, circle Aug. 25 on your calendar. The city will be hosting an open house to discuss the concept of revamping Ninth Street east of Massachusetts Street. The meeting will be from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. The meeting won’t include any big unveiling of a new design for the street because there isn’t a design to be unveiled. Instead, the meeting will give basic details of the concept and give information about how the city intends to select a consultant for the project. Once a design consultant is hired, then the city anticipates having multiple meetings to get community feedback on how the street should be designed. It will be an interesting project to watch. Not only will there be some significant works of art that will be planned for the corridor, but the design of the street likely will be significantly different than what is there today. That could include some medians, some protected bike lanes and other features.
Maybe at this time next year, you'll see Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari at West Lawrence's Six Mile Chophouse, or Michigan State's Tom Izzo at downtown's Pachamama's, or Missouri coach Kim Anderson at North Lawrence's circus school.
Indeed, it looks like the city's recreation center/fieldhouse at Rock Chalk Park is going to do more than attract youth basketball players. City officials have confirmed they've reached a deal with a major promoter to bring a signature AAU basketball tournament to the city, which is expected to bring 80 to 100 teams, and upwards of 30 of the top Division I basketball coaches to scout talent.
City officials aren't yet announcing the name of the tournament because the promoter hasn't yet made an announcement, but Chad Tower, the operations supervisor for the Rock Chalk Park center, told me the tournament is one that is currently held in Kansas City. Tower said plans call for the tournament to be held over four days in late July 2015.
"You talk about a chamber of commerce type of weekend, this will be one of them," Tower said.
The four-day nature of the tournament — Thursday through Sunday — is great for hotels and gives participants and their families a lot of time to explore the community's shops and restaurants.
More such tournaments may be on the way. Tower said the same promoter is about 95 percent certain he'll use the Rock Chalk center to host a similar size and caliber tournament for top Division I women's basketball recruits in April. A different promoter is close to signing a deal for a four-day boys tournament that would showcase lower NCAA and NAIA types of talent. That likely would be in early July.
"We already have been giving a lot of tours to tournament directors," Tower said. "When you get in there, you really feel the size of the facility. They have all said this is going to be the best facility in the area. They talk about how there won't be another place like it in the area."
Tower said Parks and Recreation officials also have had good discussions with members of Bill Self's staff about having the KU coach's summer basketball camps at the facility. Those camps likely would take place in June.
We've previously reported the facility also has booked some volleyball tournaments with area clubs and leagues. Thus far, Tower estimates that the facility has a little more than 20 tournaments booked.
When completed in early September, the Rock Chalk center — officially named Sports Pavilion Lawrence — will have eight full-sized basketball courts that can be converted to 16 cross-court playing surfaces. Only seven of the eight courts ever will be available for tournaments because the city has committed to keeping at least one court open for community use at all times.
Now that brings up an interesting possibility: Maybe I'll just happen to be on the community court at the same time Calipari, Izzo and the other big-time coaches are in the facility. They'll be over to watch in no time, because I'm guessing it won't take long for word to spread about the player in jean shorts with the hook shot. Who knows, maybe even Kim Anderson will stop juggling fire for a moment and come over to watch.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There have been some questions about whether people will be able to take the city's public transit system out to Rock Chalk Park. Robert Nugent, the city's transit administrator, tells me the answer soon will be yes.
Nugent said the city will be unveiling its annual tweaking of transit routes in August. That will include a new route that will run from Sixth and Wakarusa to the Rock Chalk Park facility. It won't have high frequency — current plans call for it running once an hour — but it also will have a flex service component to it, meaning people can call and schedule some times as well. Look for more details on the route in the coming weeks.
• Lawrence is staying in the trail business in a big way. The city is working to submit a $108,000 grant to build a new trail along the Kansas River between Burcham Park and Constant Park. The trail would tie into a recently completed trail that is located in the Sandra J. Shaw Community Health Park, which is behind the old VFW building at First and Alabama streets. The grant, which comes with a 50 percent match requirement from the city, would be through the Sunflower Foundation, which provided grant money for the trail in Shaw Park. Winners should be announced in August. There currently is a path along the Kansas River, but Mark Hecker, assistant director of parks and recreation, said the new trail would be much more functional.
"We will put it back from the river just a bit to avoid erosion problems, but the idea really is that you'll be able to take a nice walk along the edge of the river," Hecker said.
If the grant is awarded, construction would begin this winter. In the meantime, the city is still waiting to receive word on whether it will receive a state transportation grant to build a new hike and bike trail through East Lawrence. News on that grant is expected at any time now.
• On the very off chance that our plan to get recruited by the country's top basketball coaches doesn't work, we may have a fall back. You get your best Brian Boitano costume on, I'll do my best Reg Dunlop impersonation from the classic hockey movie Slap Shot, and we'll put on quite a show at downtown Lawrence's ice rink.
We've reported several times that parks and recreation leaders are exploring the idea of putting in an artificial ice rink in the plaza area between the library and the parking garage. Well, that plan is still moving forward, and we should know soon whether it actually will be feasible.
The city has sent out a request for proposals from companies that can provide the necessary equipment to create the ice rink. The deadline for those proposals is Friday. At that point, the city should have a better idea on the cost of the facility.
As currently envisioned, the rink — which would be designed for recreational skating, not hockey — would be in operation from around Thanksgiving through the winter holiday season, which may mean through New Years or perhaps all the way to Valentine's Day.
Housing and self-storage units planned for area north of Rock Chalk Park; city to host budget sessions next week
Plans for a major new residential area north of Rock Chalk Park are in the works, and the first signs of commercial development near the sports complex also are showing up at City Hall. But the commercial plans may not be what you expect.
Plans have been filed for about 13 acres of self-storage units just north and west of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex.
If that leaves you scratching your head, that shows you don't understand all that will be going on at the city's new recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. In addition to it being a magnet for youth tournaments, it also will host a variety of adult leagues. And if you have ever seen a group of 40-year old men play basketball, you know it looks like a medical device aisle has exploded: Knee braces, ankle braces, elbow braces, and braces for parts that we didn't even know we had until we hit 40.
It only make sense to store all those braces in a nearby self-storage unit because the trucking costs to haul all that gear back and forth eats a fellow alive.
Well, maybe that is not the main thinking behind the proposal. It may have more to do with the approximately 600 homes that could be built north and northwest of the sports complex.
Plans at City Hall have been filed to rezone about 115 acres of property from agricultural to a mix of single-family and industrial zoning. Specifically, 25.2 acres would be zoned for 5,000 square-foot single family lots, 76.2 acres for 7,000 square-foot single family lots, and 13.3 acres for light industrial, which would house the storage units.
The property is south of North 1750 Road and east of the South Lawrence Trafficway. An entity led by Lawrence businessman Michael Garber owns the property and has filed the plans. Basically, the property is the next piece of property north of the city's recreation center, and it also includes property to the northwest of the recreation center as well. But any new houses won't be directly adjacent to the recreation center. The city and Kansas University Endowment own some wooded property north of the recreation center that will be used for trails and nature areas. That area will be a buffer between the recreation center and the new neighborhood.
That's assuming that there will be a new neighborhood. This project has some significant approvals to win from City Hall yet. In addition to the rezoning, it also likely will need an amendment to the city and county's comprehensive plan, Horizon 2020. The plan doesn't provide a lot of guidance for how the area should develop, but there are indications that it doesn't envision it developing with as much residential density as proposed.
In terms of the number of 600 new homes, that is a true estimate at this point. David Hamby, the engineer with Lawrence's BG Consultants, told me his firm hasn't yet drawn plans showing that level of detail. But based on the acreage and proposed zoning, I believe 600 is at least in the right ballpark.
The storage unit development will be an interesting part of the discussion at City Hall too. The zoning requested for the units is light industrial, which would allow a lot of other uses besides a storage unit. The proposed site is basically between the South Lawrence Trafficway and a Westar electric substation. (More on that substation in a moment.)
Hamby said Garber's long-term plans for the industrial zoning are storage units. In other words, the storage units aren't just a mechanism to bide some time. Hamby said he expected there would be some use restrictions placed on any zoning to ensure that whatever happens there is compatible with the proposed residential and also with the recreation uses at Rock Chalk Park. Hamby said current plans call for a lot of landscaping, which would basically make the storage units tough to view from the busy South Lawrence Trafficway.
We'll see what type of reception the project receives at City Hall, but it was always in the back of people's minds that the Rock Chalk Park project was supposed to spur development in the area. Thus far, it is spurring quite a bit of interest in new homes in the area.
• One company that is certainly betting on new development in the area is Westar Energy. It has filed plans at City Hall to expand the existing electrical substation that is just northwest of Rock Chalk Park. As I've said many time before, the only thing I know about electricity is to not touch the red wire, so I don't have technical details on the project. But the application listed it as a $10 million expansion and said it was being designed to handle additional demand for electricity in the northwest area of Lawrence.
• I know several of you are wondering when the hotels and gas stations and restaurants are going to start showing up around Rock Chalk Park. Well, none of that has been filed yet at City Hall, and I haven't heard it blowing in the wind either, although I may just be standing in the wrong place.
The property immediately south of Rock Chalk Park, the Mercato development, is zoned for a lot of commercial development, but it is not exactly designed for hotels and gas stations. It is designed to be a more traditional development to house a couple of big-box retailers. That is one of the reasons why the owners of that property — a group led by the Schwada family — were successful in getting commercial zoning for property just west of the South Lawrence Trafficway. It was argued it could more easily accommodate the type of businesses needed to support the Rock Chalk development. But there will be significant expense to extend city water and sewer service to the site west of the SLT.
Certainly Mercato could change its plans to accommodate more Rock Chalk Park-oriented development. There is a significant amount of housing included in the Mercato development, and some of it is very near the track and field stadium. We'll see whether that develops residentially, or whether there is a push to make that more commercial oriented. I really have no idea how it will shake out, but it should be an interesting area to watch.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Creating the city's 2015 budget will include discussions on everything from spending tens of millions of dollars for a new police headquarters building to finding money to repaint the crosswalks on city streets.
City Hall leaders now want to find out what else is on your minds. The city will be hosting two public listening sessions next week to get input on the 2015 budget. They are set for:
— 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Union Pacific Depot, 402 N. Second St.;
— 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Fire Station No. 5, 1901 Stewart Ave.
Commissioners will begin deliberating on the budget in earnest in June and will approve a budget by early August. This will be the first year in recent memory that the city has hosted these budget hearings out in the community. Traditionally, they've set aside some time at a City Commission meeting to take general comments on the budget, but usually not many people show up to speak.
• A brief housekeeping note: Town Talk will be off tomorrow. My kids' summer fun with 4-H pigs is pulling me away from the office. I'll be helping park cars and direct traffic at the large antique auto swap meet at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. The parking is part of a fundraiser for my kids' 4-H club. Come see me — as long as your brakes work.
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