Posts tagged with Tenants To Homeowners

Publicly traded firm buys Lawrence-based engineering company; Holiday Inn closing banquet area for renovations; city to consider adding police dogs to force

Lawrence’s efforts to become an engineering hub may have received a significant boost. A publicly traded company has completed a multimillion dollar deal to purchase a rapidly growing Lawrence-based engineering firm.

Willdan Group Inc. — an Anaheim, Calif.-based firm that is traded on the NASDAQ — has bought Lawrence-based 360 Energy Engineers. 360 Energy Engineers is a 5-year-old company that spent many of its years in the Bioscience and Technology Business Center on KU’s West Campus, but recently moved into office space in the Hobbs Taylor Loft building in downtown Lawrence.

360 Energy had been posting double-digit growth rates for the last several years as it has focused on designing projects to save school districts, hospitals, municipalities and other organizations money on their energy bills. But the sale to Willdan is expected to provide even more growth opportunities, said Joe Hurla, who was one of three co-owners of 360 Energy and is staying on with Willdan.

“We looked at it as a great opportunity,” Hurla said. “We have been growing steadily and profitably, but Willdan brings a lot of capabilities and a lot of resources that we just didn’t have.”

There may be reason for area engineers to celebrate too. (In the engineering world, that means they’ll throw a party and do crazy things with all the function keys on a graphing calculator.) Hurla said Willdan’s plans are to keep the operations in Lawrence and ultimately grow them.

“We’re here for the long term,” Hurla said.

Hurla said Willdan is very interested in expanding into the Midwest market. Plus, the company likes the availability of engineers in the area, and the lower cost of operations in the Midwest.

“The idea is for it to become the Midwest hub, and the idea is to bring more engineering jobs to this market,” Hurla said. “They’ll be good-paying jobs for this market, but it is a lot more affordable to have engineers based in Lawrence than in California or New York.”

360 Energy has about 15 employees in Lawrence, plus has offices in Denver and Little Rock, Ark. The company has engineered a variety of projects related to heating and cooling upgrades, high-efficiency lighting projects, building envelope improvements, and other projects that would cause us nonengineers to hurt ourselves with a slide rule. The company uses performance contracting, which allows organizations to finance the projects through the future energy savings that will result.

Hurla said that’s a market that Willdan has wanted to become a larger player in. Willdan — the name is the combination of the first names of its two founders — announced it purchased 360 Energy and a smaller Oregon-based engineering firm for a total of $21.2 million.

In other news and notes from around town:

First President Obama registers as a guest, and now there is news that Lawrence’s Holiday Inn and Convention center is set to get a major renovation.

Stephen Horton, general manager of the facility at 200 McDonald Drive, confirmed renovations of several rooms already are underway. But the bigger work is set to begin this summer when the hotel’s banquet and convention space will be shut down for about 10 weeks for upgrades.

I learned of the pending work because some large events that were scheduled for the Holiday Inn are now scrambling to find other locations this summer. Horton declined to provide details about how many functions — think weddings, think nonprofit fundraisers, and a host of other events — will be affected by the temporary closure. It also wasn’t clear to me when the decision to close the banquet facilities was made.

There’s a rumor going around town that all the inspections and such that were related to President Obama’s stay found something that hotel officials decided needed to be fixed sooner rather than later. Horton, though, said that’s not the case.

“I have no idea where that came from,” Horton said.

(Indeed, people have crazy ideas about what happened with the president. I heard one person who thought the presidential motorcade rented limousines from an area vendor. That also isn’t true, although I’m sure the president would occasionally enjoy the amenities in a nice prom limo.)

Details about the renovation are still being developed by architects, Horton said. But the general idea is to make the entire hotel more “fashionable, modern and contemporary.”

“We are certainly going to do all of that,” Horton said.

There has been a lot of hotel development in Lawrence in recent years, but the Holiday Inn is still the largest hotel in Lawrence with 192 rooms. It also has the largest convention/banquet space with about 15,000 square feet. Horton said the project won’t add any rooms or meeting space, but rather will upgrade the existing space.

“It will make us absolutely a lot more marketable,” Horton said. “It will make us a destination spot for some groups that maybe have been going to Kansas City in the past.”

Horton said the entire set of renovations likely will take most of 2015 to complete.

Lawrence’s newest crime fighters may have four legs. The Lawrence Police Department is requesting funding to start a police service dog program. The department currently relies on police dogs from Topeka or other jurisdictions to help in cases involving search and recovery, narcotics and other such issues.

A new report from the department details just how often Lawrence officers are in need of dogs. The department asked two officers who are assigned to criminal interdiction to track how often they request a police dog from another department. From April 2014 to November 2014, they requested a police dog on 211 occasions. They received a police dog from other jurisdictions just 53 times. The report notes that police dogs helped seize large amounts of illegal narcotics, and even assisted in discovering a financial scheme that involved about $100,000 in fraudulent gift cards. The department said a police dog also would be invaluable in helping track a missing child or an at-risk adult.

City commissioners will consider the issue at their Tuesday evening meeting. A police dog costs about $9,500 to purchase, and there are other startup and operational expenses as well. The department has presented several funding scenarios. On the low end, the department could start a program with two police dogs for $36,000, if it used existing vehicles and personnel. On the high end, a program with two dogs, new vehicles and new personnel would cost about $270,000.

City commissioners meet at 5:45 on Tuesday at City Hall to discuss the issue.

We’ve been telling you for months about a planned senior, affordable housing project behind the United Way building in southern Lawrence. Well, the project is ready to begin construction, but first the nonprofit group that is developing the housing is seeking $100,000 in assistance from City Hall.

Lawrence-based Tenants to Homeowners is requesting $100,000 in city funds to help pay for several city-required infrastructure improvements to the site at 2525 Cedarwood Avenue. The project will include 14 duplex living units with a total of 23 bedrooms. The project also will include a community center for the neighborhood, which will have a “telehealth” kiosk that would allow residents to take vital signs and communicate with their doctors.

“This development will be a showpiece for residential infill, innovative senior affordable housing and community partnerships,” Rebecca Buford, executive director of Tenants to Homeowners told city commissioners in a letter.

Tenants to Homeowners is estimating the entire project will cost about $1.9 million to build. It will use grant money and rental income from the units to finance the project, but it still has a gap of about $135,000. It is seeking $100,000 from the city. It notes that Douglas County already has made a significant donation to the project. Douglas County gave the property for the project, a donation valued at about $260,000.

City commissioners will receive the request at their Tuesday evening meeting, but are not expected to decide the issue until receiving a staff report in future weeks.

A little housekeeping: Town Talk will be off for the next week while I get my batteries recharged in advance of what will be a busy City Commission election season. That process involves jumper cables, a city code book and a mayoral gavel, so hopefully I’ll return to action in a week.

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Tenants to Homeowners files plans for independent, senior living project in south Lawrence

If Lawrence really wants to become a destination for retirees, Rebecca Buford, executive director of Lawrence's Tenants to Homeowners, believes there is an issue community leaders might want to think about: an affordable place for retirees to live.

"If we really want seniors to come live here, we should think about this," Buford said. "We don't want them locking up all their money in housing. We want them to have money available to spend in Lawrence."

Buford and her not-for-profit agency have filed plans to build a 14-unit, rent-controlled, senior living housing development on property just behind the United Way building in south Lawrence.

Tenants to Homeowners has filed a request to rezone about 2 acres of vacant property at 2518 Ridge Court to RM-12 multi-family zoning. The property currently is zoned for RS-7 single family development.

Buford said concept plans call for the property to be developed with a mix of one-bedroom and two-bedroom townhouses that will be limited to seniors 55 and older.

Buford said a group of retirees or soon-to-be retirees approached Tenants to Homeowners about the project, saying that Lawrence needed more retirement housing that "felt like a neighborhood instead of a high-rise apartment complex."

Buford said current plans call for Tenants to Homeowners to rent the properties to seniors rather than sell the townhouses. Buford said feedback from several retirees indicated they would rather rent than own.

"Seniors don't want to lock all their equity up into their homes," Buford said. "They usually need access to their equity for health care and other expenses."

The units will rent for below-market rates, and seniors must meet certain income guidelines to qualify for a unit. Buford said the project will be geared at those seniors who make 80 percent or less of the area's median income. For a family size of two, that means an annual income of $45,350 or less.

The property currently is owned by Douglas County. It was part of the old Valley View Nursing Home that the county operated decades ago. Buford said plans call for the county to donate the property to Tenants to Homeowners, which will help the project offer below-market rates. Buford said she also is working to secure grants and other financing for the approximately $2 million project.

If the City Hall land use approvals come through in a timely fashion, Buford hopes to break ground next spring and be ready to open by late 2014.

Buford acknowledges the project may face opposition from a few neighbors, which is often the case when vacant ground in an established neighborhood is proposed to be developed. This one comes with the added hurdle that Tenants to Homeowners is asking for a zoning category that often is used to build apartments. But Buford said Tenants to Homeowners is committed to the idea of townhouse development rather than a traditional apartment complex. And she said the development will place restrictions on the land to ensure that it always remains limited to senior housing.

But this may be one project that hits City Hall with a lot of momentum. It is combining two trends that have been getting a lot of talk locally: affordable housing and attracting retirees. There was an entire joint city-county task force on attracting retirees to the city.

And this is the third affordable housing project to surface in recent months, joining the public-private proposal by the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority at 23rd and O'Connell, and plans for a new four-story development near the Poehler Lofts building in East Lawrence. By the way, Buford confirmed to me that Tenants to Homeowners has agreed to be a partner in that project, which will feature 43 units in a newly-constructed building at the southeast corner of Ninth and Delaware streets.

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