Posts tagged with Town Talk
Lawrence construction totals on pace for record year; more details on costs of large apartment project; eco devo leaders confirm details of new manufacturer
It is time to keep our eyes open for a possible Lawrence record in 2015, and it involves the use of hammers and saws, which is usually the type of record that causes my insurance agent to lose his job. But no worries here because the record in question is whether Lawrence will have its best building year in history.
The latest figures from Lawrence City Hall show that city building inspectors have issued permits for $89.3 million worth of projects through the end of April. That puts Lawrence within striking distance of the all-time record of $175.03 million worth of projects built in 2000. (Granted, the 2000 numbers aren’t adjusted for inflation, but for those of you hung up on that, I suggest you spend the rest of this column playing with your pocket protectors.)
It is probably a bit of a long shot that the record will fall in 2015 because two of the larger projects expected this year are already included in the $89 million total — a $45 million permit for the HERE at Kansas apartment project across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium, and an $18.7 million permit for the new multistory apartment and office building under construction at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
We’ll have to see whether there are another $86 million worth of construction projects that materialize in the final eight months of the year. Regardless, it looks like Lawrence is poised to have a building year that is well-above average. To put the numbers in perspective, Lawrence in the first four months of the year had almost as many projects underway as it had for the entire 12 months of 2014. The city issued permits for $99.7 million worth of projects in 2014. For further perspective, look at the downturn Lawrence was in during the depths of the recession. For all of 2009, the city issued permits for only $75 million worth of projects.
Here’s a look at some other facts and figures from the latest building permit report from City Hall:
— The number of single family and duplex units under construction is up slightly in 2015. The city has issued permits for 49 single-family or duplex units thus far in 2014. That’s up from 42 at the same time period last year.
— Apartment construction is back with a bang. The city has issued permits for 351 new units of apartments. The HERE project and the Ninth and New Hampshire project have been major drivers of those numbers.
— April was a busy month for new construction. During the month, city inspectors issued permits for $8 million worth of work. Among the larger projects were $1 million for renovations at the new Peaslee Technical Training Center at 2920 Haskell; $700,000 for the new Chick-fil-A building near 27th and Iowa; $600,000 for a new Ulta Beauty at 27th and Iowa; $540,000 for a new grain storage bin at the Ottawa Co-op at 2001 Moodie Road; and $500,000 for renovations for Port Fonda restaurant, which will be on the ground floor of the new Marriott hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps some of you remember that during the debate over whether the City Commission should approve financial incentives for the HERE at Kansas project, the development was frequently described as a $75 million project. So, perhaps you are confused why the building permit for the project has come in about $30 million less than that.
It did catch my eye, but city officials have provided me an explanation. They said that the $45 million is the estimated cost of building the actual structure. The rest of the costs are for other items related to the development. Britt Crum-Cano, the city's economic development coordinator, said the developer of the project provided these estimates on the other project costs: $420,000 in utility connection fees; $1,000,000 in public improvements that are being paid for by the developer; $7.9 million to acquire the land; $2.7 million in architectural, engineering and legal fees; $2.1 million for fixtures, furnishings and equipment; $4.4 million for equipment to run the automated parking garage; $1.6 million in interest costs; $2.4 million for contingencies; and $6.7 million in other soft costs.
Those soft costs include items such as demolition, asbestos abatement, specialty engineering; renderings, insurance, marketing, travel, developer overhead, loan fees and a host of other items.
I’m not saying any of this was done wrong here. I’ve never given much thought to how the city determines the value of a project for building permit purposes. But I do watch permits fairly closely, and many times the value listed on a building permit is pretty close to the dollar value that is presented to city commissioners when they are considering issues such as incentives and such. The most recent project I’m thinking of is the hotel development at Ninth and New Hampshire. That was frequently discussed as being about a $12 million to $14 million project. In the end, the city issued a building permit for $13.8 million. The county appraiser lists the fair market value of the project in 2015 at about $13 million.
The only real consequence of the value listed on the permit is the value is used to determine the building permit fee due to the city. If another $30 million were added to the permit value, the developer’s building permit fee would have increased by about $30,000.
The bigger question probably relates to what the project ultimately will be valued at by the county appraiser. The City Commission approved an 85 percent, 10-year tax rebate for the project, in part, based on the idea that the project was going to go on the tax rolls somewhere near $75 million. Once the tax rebate period expires, a $75 million building produces a lot of property tax. I’m assuming that the expectation is that the building will go on the tax rolls at $75 million or so, but I’m double checking on that.
• Last week we reported that an Iowa-based company has filed plans to open a foam manufacturing plant along Haskell Avenue. Well, I’ve gotten a few more details about that project.
As we previously reported, EPS Products plans to locate in 60,000 square feet of space in the former E&E Display building at 910 E. 29th St. I had been told that the project likely would include about 20 jobs. Now, an official with the Lawrence chamber of commerce is confirming that information. Brady Pollington, economic development project manager for The Chamber, said at a chamber event this morning that he expects 15 to 20 jobs with an average wage of about $15 per hour.
Pollington also confirmed another piece of information I had heard. The company is coming to Lawrence to be closer to Amarr Garage Door’s Lawrence manufacturing facility. The new EPS facility will manufacture foam that is used as interior insulation for garage doors.
Look for the project to take shape in the next few months.
Plans filed for meat-smoking business in rural Douglas County; large apartment complex near KU tweaks plans; long list of appointments to city boards
Perhaps your barbecue experiments this long, rainy, holiday weekend have left you looking for a new place to buy smoked meats. (As I’ve said multiple times, I didn’t know we used the laundry room that much, and in my defense, I did fully open the window.) Well, plans are in the works for a new Douglas County business to become a regional supplier of smoked meats.
Brian Strecker, a former chef at the now-defunct Pachamamas, has filed plans to open The Burning Barrel on the site of a former Christmas tree farm west of Lecompton. Strecker plans to produce a variety of bacons, hams, sausages and other products that will be sold to restaurants and grocery stores throughout eastern Kansas. Most of the products will be produced from livestock raised right here in the area.
“My main focus is to provide people with a product that is from Kansas, processed in Kansas and that stays in Kansas,” Strecker said.
The idea of farm-to-table is a popular one with the the restaurant industry. Strecker said he has had good response from restaurants thus far. He said The Roost in downtown Lawrence has expressed a strong interest in buying its breakfast meats from The Burning Barrel. Bacon and sausage is expected to be a big seller, but Strecker said the possibilities for products are numerous. He said he’s talking with one restaurant that is interested in a variety of pizza toppings.
Strecker thinks hams will be a big part of the business. He said the large number of smoke and spice combinations offers possibilities for unique hams. He said in addition to traditional hams, he’s been perfecting an Asian-inspired ham that is smoked with green tea leaves and is infused with ginger, soy and Asian-varieties of peppercorns. Other varieties also will be offered.
Strecker plans to use “heritage” breeds of hogs for many of his products. The breeds, such as Durocs, are significantly different from the breeds used by the major pork producers. Strecker said the heritage breeds often produce a darker, more flavorful cut of meat.
Pork products are expected to be the bulk of the company’s offerings, but Strecker said he plans to have some beef products as well.
Strecker’s business plans, however, still need to win approval from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and the Douglas County Commission. Strecker is seeking a conditional use permit for the property at 292 North 2100 Road. Strecker is only seeking approval to process meat at the facility. There will not be any slaughtering of animals at the location. Strecker has a supplier that provides the local meat already slaughtered.
Strecker hopes to have the approval process completed in August, and the business open sometime in September. The business won’t do any retail sales at the location, but Strecker said he does expect to participate in farmers markets, and reach some retail deals with some area grocers. Strecker said he plans to sell to restaurants throughout eastern Kansas and as far west as Wichita.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Plans are changing slightly for the large apartment complex under construction at the southwest corner of 11th and Mississippi streets. The project, known as HERE at Kansas, has submitted new building elevations for the city to approve. According to an analysis by the city’s planning staff, the major change is that about two-thirds of the building becomes about one story shorter. The number of living units in the project — 237 living units — and the number of bedrooms — 624 bedrooms — are not changing as a result of the design. The project also is not changing its number of parking spaces, which is 577. So, I’m not sure if the height of each story is changing, or how the project is able to reduce its height without reducing its unit count.
Other changes noted by planning staff include a reduction in the number of windows in the parking garage portion of the project, replacement of some brick with cement-fiber panels, and minor revisions to windows and doors on the exterior of the project.
Here’s a look at a before and after version of the plans. This is for the west elevation, which is the part of the building that faces Mississippi Street. Click here to see the elevations for the other sides of the building.
• City commissioners at their meeting this evening will make a host of appointments, including a couple of people who are frequent City Hall participants. Former City Commissioner Aron Cromwell is slated to be appointed to the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee, which provides recommendations on tax abatements and other such issues. Melinda Henderson, who was once active in the Progressive Lawrence Campaign and has been a frequent advocate for neighborhood issues around town, is slated to be appointed to the Joint Economic Development Council, which makes recommendations on eco devo matters for both the city and the county.
Mayor Jeremy Farmer also has submitted a list of names for the new Pedestrian-Bicycle Issues Task Force. Those include: Dee Boeck, Carol Bowen, Charlie Bryan, Clint Idol, Marilyn Hull, Mike Kelly, Erin Paden, Bonnie Uffman, Marianne Melling, Patricia Weaver and Adam Weigel.
• Here is perhaps the number of the day: From Jan. 1 to April 30, the city’s police department responded to approximately 750 calls that were “suicide-related or requests to check on an individual’s welfare.” That’s a little more than six per day.
The number is part of a memo city commissioners will be studying as part of a 3 p.m. study session today. Commissioners are holding the first in a series of study sessions related to setting goals for the city. Today they will focus on public safety and mental health issues. As the number above suggests, there is some crossover between the two.
We’ll see how the discussion proceeds, though. There is a growing debate in City Hall about whether the city’s efforts to build a new police headquarters facility should be linked to the community’s efforts to address mental health care.
On the one hand, a complete review of the police department, including how it can be part of the mental health care system, might be helpful in planning how the department should be structured in the future. But on the other hand, advocates for a new police facility say that the facility needs are immediate. It is uncertain how long a complete review of the department may take.
I’ll be at today’s study session and will report back on the discussion that ensues.
New center for business startups opens near Ninth and Iowa; city plans to discuss gigabit Internet again
Figuring out how to help Lawrence residents build new companies is the big talk in local economic development circles these days. Now, there is a new private effort underway to help budding entrepreneurs as well. The Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship has recently opened near Ninth and Iowa streets.
If you remember, we reported back in October that Lawrence school board member Kristie Adair was opening the new venture. Adair, who also is a co-owner of Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband, said construction work has been completed and the center is fully operational.
The center, which is in one of the office buildings west of The Merc, offers both office space and access to a workshop that is stocked with several specialized tools that can help in the creation of prototype products. We’re talking about devices like 3-D printers that meld plastic material together to create new objects and a CNC machine that uses computer-generated designs to cut and shape material into new objects. Plus, there’s traditional woodworking tools, an electronics repair station and other such tools. The center also offers classes in how to use some of the more advanced equipment. (That sounds handy because I can’t get my 3-D printer to work. But I suspect I’m just wearing the glasses wrong.)
On the office side of the business, there are shared worked spaces, a conference room, a lounge, desktop publishing software and, importantly, high-speed gigabit Internet service. That means businesses have the same type of ballyhooed Internet speeds that are being offered by Google Fiber in Kansas City. The center sells memberships to businesses for $50 a month, which gives members 24-hour access to the facility, Adair said.
The center also offers a secure computer server room that companies can rent space in to house their own servers or back-up servers.
Adair is serving as executive director of the new center, which is a private venture owned by Adair and her husband, Joshua Montgomery. Adair said it is important for communities to have centers like this one, if communities are serious about being friendly to new startups.
“We really remember what it is like to start out in a small business,” Adair said. “It was challenging, and one of our bigger challenges was finding space.”
Adair said she’s come to learn that sharing space with other startup businesses also can be beneficial.
“You realize you need space, but you don’t always realize that you need somebody to bounce some ideas off to and talk shop with,” Adair said. “Starting a business can be a lonely venture.”
While the center is geared toward business startups, Adair said membership also is available to people who haven’t yet gotten to that stage, but are interested in learning more about 3-D printers and some of the other “maker space” technology.
The Center for Entrepreneurship isn’t alone in trying to reach out to Lawrence startups or home-based businesses that are looking to make the transition into office space. We’ve previously reported on Lawrence Creates, a nonprofit venture in East Lawrence, that offers some of the same types of services but also does more outreach to the artist community as well. The Cider Gallery in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District also offers shared office space and other business services for startups. Adair, though, said she thought the various business centers all would carve out their unique niches in the marketplace.
“I think people are really starting to see the need in Lawrence for this type of service,” Adair said. “Businesses that build jobs one or two at a time really are the backbone of an economy.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re speaking of high-tech things, there’s an update on Lawrence’s quest to get widespread gigabit Internet service in Lawrence. Perhaps you recall that last week I reported that Eudora was about to jump ahead of Lawrence in its efforts to get the super fast Internet service that is similar to Google Fiber in Kansas City. Eudora is close to signing an agreement with Baldwin City-based RG Fiber that would bring the service to that Douglas County community just east of Lawrence. If the Eudora project proceeds, RG’s leader has said it likely would delay the company’s plans to install the service in parts of Lawrence.
RG Fiber has been interested in installing service in parts of Lawrence for more than a year, but the City Commission has been slow in approving a “fiber policy.” (This one is different from the standard three bowls of Shredded Wheat per morning.) This fiber policy would allow companies like RG to lease unused portions of city-owned fiber optic cable to help complete a network in the city.
Well, perhaps it is all just coincidence, but shortly after Lawrence officials learned that RG was talking with Eudora, city commissioners are now saying they’re ready to pass this fiber policy. Expect it to be on Tuesday’s agenda. New Commissioner Matthew Herbert also forecast that the policy shouldn’t have any problem winning approval.
“I think it is pretty close to just needing a rubber stamp,” Herbert said. “People in the industry are happy with it.”
We’ll see whether Lawrence’s approval of the policy causes RG Fiber to reconsider its timing for entering the Lawrence market.
75th Anniversary of The Duke and 75,000 fans in Lawrence; police officers association endorses three for City Commission
Well, Pilgrim, cinch up your saddle, pull your hat down tight and mosey over to to the popcorn trough. There’s a new excuse for Lawrence residents to watch a John Wayne movie in the coming days. (As a bonus, we also can walk around saying words like pilgrim, sarsaparilla and boy-howdy without people looking at us odd. Why are you still looking at me odd?)
Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of John Wayne coming to Lawrence as part of the world premier of his 1940 motion picture "Dark Command." The movie wasn’t filmed in Lawrence — if you have ever watched it, you’ll get a kick out of the scenery around Lawrence — but the plot was based in Lawrence. The movie is loosely based on Quantrill’s Raid of the city. The villain and John Wayne’s nemesis in the film is a fellow by the name of William Cantrell.
To hear some people tell it, the 1940 event is one of the standout pre-war memories people have of Lawrence. A Journal-World staff writer reminisced on the event in a 1998 Journal-World article. It was estimated that more than 75,000 people turned out in downtown Lawrence for the festivities surrounding the world premiere. There was a parade that was estimated to be “more than two miles long as hundreds of local horse fanciers and motorcade fans” joined in the festivities. Both John Wayne and Gene Autry were in town for the event. Wayne was the star of the film. Autry was not in the film but was in town for the event. Roy Rogers, however, was in the movie, although he did not sing in the film. (Cantrell surely would have been brought to justice earlier if there had been more song and dance.)
The Eldridge Hotel hosted many of the film’s stars and had banners draped all over it, including one that read “Lawrence Welcomes Hollywood.”
It is an interesting piece of Lawrence history, and you can learn more about it at the Watkins Museum of History. The museum at 11th and Massachusetts will unveil an exhibit about the movie and the world premier event on April 18. However, the museum has a small display up now. On April 18, the museum will host three screenings of "Dark Command" at 10:30, 12:30 and 2:30.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The Lawrence City Commission race is really in the homestretch now, which means more groups and organizations are announcing their endorsement of candidates. The latest group is the Lawrence Police Officers Association Political Action Committee. It has endorsed candidates Stan Rasmussen, Matthew Herbert and Terry Riordan. That is the same trio of candidates that recently won the endorsement of the Lawrence Board of Realtors. It is always unclear how much these endorsements help a candidate, but two of these three certainly were left with some work to do after March’s primary election. Riordan finished fourth in the primary and Herbert finished fifth. Only the top three vote winners in the General Election will win a seat on the City Commission.
The General Election is on Tuesday.
• I’m getting lots of questions these days about the election and also a lot of questions about the future of City Manager David Corliss. As you may remember, we reported a couple of weeks ago, Corliss is a finalist for the town manager job in Castle Rock, Colo. That’s still the case. The town of about 50,000 people outside of Denver has not yet made an announcement. But I’m expecting one soon. I suspect we’ll have an answer on Corliss’ future before we have an answer on who the next city commissioners will be. I’ve received no definitive word on what will happen in Castle Rock, but just reading the tea leaves around City Hall, I think city commissioners are preparing as if they’ll soon be searching for a new city manager. But perhaps we’ll all be surprised. It should become much clearer soon.
The auto business in Lawrence is booming, and its latest expansion is set for 23rd Street and Haskell Avenue. Lawrence-based Auto Exchange has filed plans to open a new dealership at the intersection.
Auto Exchange has reached a deal to take over the northwest corner of the intersection, the spot that previously housed the Hertz rental car business. Matt Heidrich, managing partner for the business, said the company plans to keep its existing location at 33rd and Iowa streets open as well. He hopes to have the new location at 23rd and Haskell open in 60 to 90 days.
“Our No. 1 problem has been keeping enough inventory,” Heidrich said. “The additional location will allow us to really expand our inventory.”
The deal represents a return to 23rd Street for Auto Exchange. It previously operated at the location down the street that now houses the Lawrence Kia dealership. The new location will be significantly smaller than that spot, but Heidrich said smaller locations are a part of Auto Exchange’s business strategy. The smaller locations allow for significantly lower overhead costs, he said.
“We figured out that bigger isn’t always better,” Heidrich said.
The strategy also works well with the company’s online strategy. Heidrich said the Internet has caused major changes in the dealership industry. He said about 90 percent of his dealership’s business is done online.
“The Internet has increased our business exponentially” he said.
Look for some construction to occur at the 23rd and Haskell site. Plans call for a remodel of the existing building, and the addition of a car wash bay to the site.
In case you are wondering about Hertz, it has moved to 845 Iowa St. It is now located inside The Selection auto dealership.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I know when I go to buy a new car, I always check my bank account first (assuming my wife has told me which bank the money’s at.) Well, there’s a new report out that shows how Kansans did in 2014 when it comes to incomes.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has released its per capita income numbers for each state in 2014. It wasn’t a great year for Kansas. Per capita income grew in the state — as it did every state — but Kansas’ growth rate was in the bottom quintile. (‘Quintile’ is left over from the days when I had enough money to buy a fancy word dictionary. Otherwise, I would just say the bottom fifth.)
Kansas’ per capita income grew by 2.9 percent in 2014. That’s compared to the national average of 3.9 percent. But a lot of Kansas’ neighbors are keeping us company in terms of lower-than-average income growth. The report notes that states that depend a lot on agriculture suffered some in 2014, especially if they didn’t have large amounts of oil and gas revenues to help their economies.
Here’s a look at the per capita incomes and growth rates for the seven states that make up the Plains Region:
— Iowa: $45,115, up 1.3 percent
— Kansas: $45,546, up 2.9 percent
— Minnesota: $48,711, up 3.2 percent
— Missouri: $41,613, up 2.7 percent
— Nebraska: $47,073, up 0.5 percent
— North Dakota: $54,951, up 5.6 percent
— South Dakota: $46,345, up 1.7 percent
As for our two neighboring states that aren’t included in that list: Colorado has per capita income of $48,730, which grew by 5.6 percent in 2014; Oklahoma checks in at $43,138, and grew at 3.8 percent last year.
In case you are wondering, the fastest growing incomes were: 1. Alaska; 2. Oregon; 3. Colorado; 4. North Dakota; 5. Texas.
In case you missed Wednesday's post: Work planned for Iowa Street this summer; roundabout for Bob Billings?
Final bill comes due for city on Rock Chalk Park improvements; first candidate files for City Commission
It is my day to wear green eye shade, and I’m not just talking about the makeup practice my daughter conducts on me when I fall asleep in front of the TV. No, today’s a big number day with the city, so I’ll do my best imitation of a number cruncher. The city has released the final numbers for Rock Chalk Park construction, and what has long been assumed is now official: The city is paying for nearly all the infrastructure costs associated with the public/private partnership.
I’ll do a more complete article later today, but here are some of the basics:
— Total infrastructure costs for all of Rock Chalk Park check in at $11.59 million. Infrastructure includes things such as parking lots, streets, sewer lines, water lines, lighting and other such items. The project was designed so that infrastructure could be shared between the city-owned recreation center and the privately owned track, soccer and softball facilities that are owned by a group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel, who then in turn leases the facilities to Kansas Athletics.
— For the shared infrastructure, the city will pay $10.45 million of the total.
— Early on, Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self said his Assists Foundation would donate $1 million to help fund a west Lawrence recreation center. That $1 million donation is now being applied to pay for the shared infrastructure cost for Rock Chalk Park.
— After those two payments are made, what’s left of the infrastructure bill is $145,835. The city memo on the subject doesn’t provide much detail on how that amount will be paid, but based on prior conversations, I’m assuming it will be paid by the Fritzel-led group that owns the track, soccer and softball facilities that will benefit from the infrastructure.
There are probably several ways to look at this, but for those of you trying to figure out what percentage of infrastructure the city paid for compared to what percentage of facilities the city owns at Rock Chalk Park, here are some numbers: The construction value of the city’s recreation center is $10.5 million. The construction value of the facilities owned by the Fritzel group is about $40 million. The entity that owns the $10.5 million worth of facilities at the park — the city — is paying for a little more than 90 percent of the infrastructure costs. Bill Self’s Assists Foundation, which own none of the facilities at the park, is paying for about 8.6 percent of the infrastructure costs. The ownership group of the track, soccer and softball facilities appears to be paying for about 1.2 percent of the infrastructure costs.
It is fair to note that the city’s recreation center likely will be the largest generator of day-to-day traffic at the complex, so people will have to determine on their own how that should be factored in to creating an equitable split.
City commissioners are being asked to make the infrastructure payment to Fritzel’s group at their Tuesday evening meeting. The amount comes as no surprise. Figures close to these have been projected for several months now. But the numbers are different from when the project was first proposed.
At several points in the process, the city believed it would be paying $25 million for a recreation center, infrastructure and other amenities that would have a value of $33 million. On several occasions, city commissioners said they were viewing the difference as a donation to the city that made this project a unique opportunity that warranted the city deviating from its standard bidding process. The final numbers have not quite worked out that way. The total amount of money the city has paid for the project is less than $25 million, but there does not appear to be any donation of the amount once anticipated by the city.
I’ll attempt to check in with city officials and Fritzel today to review the final numbers.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The ring of robo calls has not yet left my ears, but make no mistake a new campaign season has begun. It is for the Lawrence City Commission. The first candidate for the commission has filed. Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commissioner Stan Rasmussen has filed for one of the three seats up for election on the five-member commission.
Rasmussen and I have exchanged some emails, but I haven’t yet been able to conduct a full interview with him. He is an attorney with U.S. Army — officially he’s the regional counsel for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations Energy & Environment — and he is tied up in some meetings that haven’t allowed us to meet for an interview. But we’ll chat in the coming days and I’ll bring you more about his campaign positions and such.
In terms of the basics, Rasmussen, 52, has been in Lawrence for about 35 years. He’s been active in the world of Lawrence city advisory boards. He’s a veteran member of the planning commission, and also has served on the Lawrence Board of Zoning Appeals, sign code board of appeals, and the Lawrence Historic Resources Commission. He currently is one of the 10 members on the steering committee looking at how Horizon 2020 may need to be rewritten.
Rasmussen is the first to file, but he certainly won’t be the last. I’m expecting strong interest in the seats this year. As we previously have reported, Leslie Soden, an East Lawrence resident who has been active in several City Hall issues, has said she is seriously considering another run at the commission. Kris Adair, a Lawrence school board member who also is an owner of Wicked Broadband, has said she is considering a run for the city commission.
Just recently, I also heard from Lawrence attorney and social service professional Eric Sader. He said he’s forming a committee to explore a run for the commission.
The three commissioners who have terms expiring are Mike Dever, Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm. None has said whether he intends to seek re-election, although Schumm has made comments that indicate he plans to.
If we have seven or more candidates file for a seat on the commission, we’ll have a primary election to whittle the field to six on March 3. The general election will be April 7. All the seats on the City Commission are at-large seats, so voters simply will pick their top three choices.
The filing deadline for the race is noon on Jan. 27.
Green energy company to locate headquarters on 23rd Street; a Mangino yard sign; possible changes to how city deals with downtown races
Expect one stretch of 23rd Street to become a little greener. Don’t worry, Lawrence construction crews aren’t changing from orange cones to green ones. Instead, a growing green energy company is setting up its headquarters in a 23rd Street building and plans to use the prominent site to show off its solar and wind technology.
Lawrence-based Good Energy Solutions has signed a deal to locate in the former Diamond Cabinetry building at 641 E. 22nd St. Even though the business has a 22nd Street address, it basically has 23rd Street frontage. It is the building just east of the 23rd Street bridge that was recently rebuilt.
The company plans to put solar panels and solar canopies on the building, have a prominently displayed, solar-powered electric car charging station, and a residential scale wind turbine on the site, company officials told me.
But the big reason for the move was that the company was running out of space in its current location in the 2100 block of Carolina Street. In the last year, the company has grown to 12 full-time employees, up from four a year ago. The company’s revenues have quadrupled in the last year, said David Thiel, the company’s office manager.
Thiel said the price of solar panels have dropped significantly, which combined with some tax credits has made solar energy a feasible option for many residences. He said about 60 percent of the company’s sales now are on the residential side of the equation. He said some of the company’s customers are people who have had their eye on the solar movement for decades.
“It seems like people of a certain age finally have the money to purchase solar, and they are doing it now,” Thiel said.
The company also does wind energy projects and recently has expanded into the LED lighting business.
The company plans to move into its new offices in the coming days, and look for some of the improvements on the site in the coming weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is campaign season, and yard signs are thicker than the glazed icing on my breakfast this morning. It is easy to become confused with all of them, which is why I almost threw my support for governor to former KU football coach Mark Mangino. You can’t blame me. He does have a yard sign. I was driving on 19th Street the other day and saw a Mangino yard sign, and made a point to go back and take another look at it. You can see it below, but it basically is lobbying for Mangino to be re-installed as the head coach at KU, now that the position is open again.
I have no insight or particular opinion about that. I’ll leave that to the sports guys. But the sign idea, I thought was interesting. The city has sign codes, but the country also has a First Amendment that lets you express your opinion in a variety of ways. Maybe the sign idea will catch on with other important issues as well. World peace, social justice, the creation of an all-you-can-eat country buffet in Lawrence.
As for the Mangino sign, I don’t know if it is an actual movement. I’ve only seen the one sign. But maybe there are more I just haven’t seen them. (I think I could probably get several hundred signs up for the all-you-can eat country buffet, by the way, and probably even sponsorship from a cholesterol drug firm.) Where was this sign, you ask? Well, I’ll give you a hint: It wasn’t in Lew Perkins’ yard. Instead it was in front of Silverback, a Lawrence business that organizes runs and other events across the country. It sets up a lot of the Color Runs around the country.
• Silverback and companies like it may have other issues than the KU football coaching search to keep an eye on. Lawrence city commissioners may have a debate about how they regulate the multitude of 5K races and such that occur in downtown Lawrence and across the city.
Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday approved a route and necessary permits for the upcoming Kansas Half Marathon, which will benefit Lawrence-based Health Care Access. Commissioners also agreed to donate the services of the Lawrence police and fire departments to help staff the event. That is expected to come at a cost of about $8,200.
It is fairly common for the city to donate those services if the event is a fundraiser for a charity. But City Commissioner Bob Schumm said he wants to have a broader discussion about that policy. He said he’s heard from several residents who have concerns that some of the races that are promoted as nonprofit events have a large profit component.
Health Care Access officials said that is not the case with their event. The race is expected to raise more than $35,000 in funding for the organization that provides health care to uninsured or under-insured. That’s more than half the expected $60,000 in entry fees the event is expected to generate. The difference between the $60,000 and the $35,000 is the expenses needed to put on the event, which is expected to draw up to 1,300 runners. Part of those expenses is paying the for-profit company Silverback to manage the course. That includes providing people to help control traffic along the course, mark the course, and do the other things required to have a safe event.
Health Care Access officials told city commissioners that it wouldn’t be possible for their small staff to put on the race without the help of a for-profit company like Silverback. City commissioners said they understand the need for professional assistance, but Schumm said he wants to ensure that races that are promoted as non-profit fundraisers really do return a substantial portion of all revenues to the nonprofit agency. He said that appears to be the case with Health Care Access’ event, and he voted in favor of the necessary permits for the event.
But he said he also wants commissioners to consider policy that would require any race seeking the city’s donation of services to provide an income statement to the city showing the total amount of revenue raised by the event, and the total amount of money the charity will received. Commissioners took no action on that request, but agreed to look at the issue near the end of the year when the city compiles a report on how much it has donated to these various races.
I’ll also be interested to see if that discussion sparks another discussion on whether the city will try to steer future events out of downtown and onto the extensive trail system that exists at Rock Chalk Park. The trail system would not require city police officers and others to provide traffic control. But I know many race organizers like having the events in downtown Lawrence because of the atmosphere it provides. Some businesses like it too, but there are several businesses who express concern that the street closures that come with the races hurt their normal weekend business.
City collects 50 tons of recycling on first day of new program; update on Sixth and Iowa; Lawrence’s impressive job numbers
Lawrence’s new curbside recycling program is off and running, and city officials are pleased with the first day’s haul. City crews collected 50 tons of material to be recycled on Tuesday, which was the first day of operations. (Yes, upon hearing that number I was nervous that my wife had somehow recycled my collection of beer cans and pizza boxes from KU’s magical championship run in 2008. But fear not, it is still there, and I’ve now put a wheel lock on the semi trailer in the back yard.)
Lawrence Public Works Director Chuck Soules said the Day 1 operations went well.
“The crews did a great job,” Soules said. “And that is 50 tons of trash that will not be going to the landfill.”
Soules said crews are asking residents for a bit of help, however, when it comes to setting out their blue recycling carts. The city is asking residents to place their recycling cart at least two feet away from their green trash carts. In many neighborhoods, the city uses automated trucks that use a robotic arm to pick up the containers. If the containers are too close together, the arm cannot grasp the container.
The city hasn’t touted a lot of numbers about how much material they expect to collect as part of the program. But when the city was designing the program last year, it used a working number of 5,000 tons per year, according to some old memos I dug up. (I keep the memos in a separate semi-trailer.) If the 50 tons per day rate continues — that’s a big if because we’ve only seen one day’s worth of data — the city would more than double that 5,000 ton projection.
It is possible that Lawrence residents may end up recycling more than 50 tons per day. After all, the city takes about 60,000 tons of trash to the landfill in a year. In fact, if the city wants to meet one of its goals, it may need to recycle more than 50 tons a day. City commissioners have adopted a goal of having a 50 percent recycling rate by the year 2020.
Figuring out how much we need to recycle at the curb to reach that total can be tricky because we’re not just talking about trash when we are talking about recycling. The tons and tons of material the city collects through its yard waste program also are counted toward the city’s recycling rate.
Bottomline, I’ve taken my shoes off and I still can’t do the math on how much we need to recycle to meet that 50 percent recycling goal. But what little bit of arithmetic I did do on the subject indicates such a a rate is in the realm of possibility. The city in 2010 estimated it had a recycling rate of 38 percent, which was above the national average of about 34 percent. That was without a citywide, curbside recycling program. A lot of the recycling was the yard waste, and to be fair, there were some questions of whether the city’s method for estimating yard waste collections inflated the totals.
Regardless, it will be interesting to watch the numbers in the months that follow. We should have a good idea of just how much the city is recycling, and whether we can meet our goal of becoming one of the more recycling-friendly communities in the country.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The end is in sight for the road construction project at Sixth and Iowa streets. But motorists may want to avoid the intersection this weekend while crews do some paving work at the site.
On Friday evening, crews will begin milling the intersection, and that is going to create a major traffic issue. Crews will have to close Iowa Street where it connects to Sixth Street. Traffic will continue to be allowed on Sixth Street, but motorists won’t be able to turn onto Iowa Street. Motorists on Iowa Street won’t be allowed to turn onto Sixth Street. The work is expected to begin around 7 p.m. and be done by 10 p.m., Soules said.
On Saturday morning, paving work will begin. During paving, Iowa Street access will be closed just like it was for the milling work. That work is expected to take place throughout the day on Saturday. Some work will continue on Monday, but the Iowa/Sixth Street connection should be restored by then.
In case you have forgotten, the main purpose of the project was to add a left-turn lane on Sixth Street for westbound motorists wanting to turn onto Iowa Street. Longtime motorists understand why this lane will be useful. You are driving on Sixth Street, minding your own business, day dreaming about KU basketball ball, Free State beer and ways to combine the two perhaps using a large screen TV and a sanitized Jacuzzi. Then, bam, you open your eyes and realize you are in the left lane of Sixth Street even though you want to continue to go straight through the intersection. You stop and spend approximately 23 minutes waiting behind the yahoo in the F150 pickup truck with a U-Haul trailer waiting to turn onto Iowa Street so he can pick up his daily supply of doughnuts from the fine purveyors at Ninth and Iowa Streets. We’ve all been there, right?
Well, by early next week, a left-turn lane should be in place and operational, city officials tell me. The intersection also will have some new right-turn lanes, new striping and other things you’ll want to pay attention to. So, at least for the next few days, keep your eyes open.
• As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday (@clawhorn_ljw) Lawrence in August 2014 had the highest job growth rate of any metro area in the U.S. The numbers come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a group by the name of Talent Tribune took the time to rank the top 10 metro areas for the month.
Lawrence finished first with a 5.9 percent increase in jobs compared to August 2013. During the one-year period, the numbers show the Lawrence metro area (which is Douglas County) added 2,800 jobs. Lawrence was slightly better than Midland, Texas, which grew by 5.6 percent.
The numbers from the BLS are preliminary, so they may get revised at a later date. But as I reported earlier this month, an economist at Wichita State also had pointed out that Lawrence’s job numbers seemed to be on a rebound. So, it is definitely something to watch for.
I chatted with chamber president and CEO Larry McElwain about the numbers, and to his credit, he wasn’t unfurling the Mission Accomplished banner just yet. It is just one month of numbers, after all.
“I still have caution on those numbers,” McElwain said. “I want to make sure they are good jobs and not just temporary jobs. I want to make sure they are jobs that meet the needs of our residents, and not just minimum wage or slightly above.”
It is tough to point to what may have led to an increase of 2,800 jobs in the last year. But it is likely a couple of major employers have added to the totals. If you remember, Hallmark cards did some major reorganizing of its production plants in the region. Lawrence’s production plant ended up being a winner in that process. We reported in March 2013 that Hallmark expected to add about 200 jobs to its Lawrence plant during the course of 2013. That number may have grown some even, I’m told.
General Dynamics, which operates the former NCS/Pearson call center in East Hills also has been adding jobs. In September, we reported that General Dynamics may be adding about 400 jobs for a customer service contract related to the Affordable Care Act. Whether some new General Dynamics jobs started showing up in August, I don’t know.
Part of it just may be pent-up demand by hundreds of small businesses in the area. Lawrence has not grown jobs at the same type of pace several other communities have over the last few years. Lawrence companies may finally just be feeling that they are on a firmer footing and are now expanding. It will be interesting to watch the numbers that come out in the next few months. But for the time being, we can tout that our job growth rate is better than everybody else’s, if even just for a month. Here’s a look at how other area communities fared during August 2014.
— Manhattan: 2.8 percent
— Topeka: 1.7 percent
— Wichita: 1.2 percent
— Kansas City: 0.5 percent.
— Kansas as a whole: 1.1 percent
Whether it is via bus, via car, or via a boat through the intersection of 23rd and Ousdahl, Lawrence city commissioners are set to discuss a host of transportation issues this week. (Spoiler alert: They're trying to decrease the need for a boat at 23rd and Ousdahl.)
Here's a look at several transportation projects up for discussion at Tuesday evening's commission meeting:
• On the bus front, it's time for the city to award a new contract for its transit operations. City staff members are recommending that the current private contractor, Dallas-based MV Transportation, be awarded the service for another five years.
First Transit, the contractor that provides bus service for the Lawrence public schools, was the only other company that submitted a proposal.
MV Transportation is the current operator of Kansas University's transit system as well. KU officials also are recommending a new contract for MV, which will allow the city and KU to continue operating a coordinated system.
Based on a city memo, it looks like MV's experience in operating the transit system is a major factor in the city staff recommending an extension.
As for costs, that detail is yet to be determined. Tuesday's action by the city commission will authorize staff members to begin negotiations with MV Transportation. I assume both proposals received by the city did include some basic information about pricing for the service. That information isn't part of the information I've received from the city, but I've asked for it.
City commissioners will take final action to approve a new contract sometime before the end of the year, which is when MV's current contract expires.
• There's always a reason to curse at the intersection of 23rd and Iowa streets: Lamenting curses that there is no longer a Hardee's and its crispy curl fries at the intersection; regretful curses about how much money I once spent on crispy curl fries; physician-related curses about my doctor and his stupid cholesterol tests.
Well, add a new reason to curse at the intersection, at least temporarily. It is set to undergo major construction in 2014.
As we've previously reported, the intersection will receive new turn lanes and traffic signals in an effort to improve flow through what is one of the busier intersections in town.
But now details on the project are starting to become more concrete. City commissioners will set Oct. 29 as the bid date for the project. Construction work is scheduled to begin in the spring and last into the fall of 2014.
Motorists will notice the construction. During much of the project, traffic will be limited to one through lane and one left-turn lane. Traffic will be shifted to various sides of the intersection as well, in order to give construction crews more room to work.
When the intersection improvements are complete, every approach will have dual left-turn lanes. The sweeping right turn lanes also will be redesigned to make it safer for vehicles turning right to merge into traffic. The intersection also will be more heavily landscaped — including a new Kansas University welcome sign and flowerbed. Plans also call for brick-like crosswalks and more aesthetically pleasing medians.
Click here to see a rendering of the intersection design.
The improvements are estimated to cost about $3 million, with about $1.75 million of the funding coming from state and federal grants.
• If you have driven through the intersection of 23rd and Ousdahl in a heavy rainstorm, you perhaps have wished your emergency kit in your trunk included an inflatable raft.
Well, don't make that raft purchase just yet. After years of talk, city officials are set to put pencil to paper on a solution for stormwater flooding at 23rd and Ousdahl.
Commissioners are being asked to approve an approximately $90,000 contract with BG Consultants to design a stormwater improvement project for the intersection. Exactly what that will involve isn't known yet, but engineers say one possibility is a detention basin located on the western portion of the nearby Schwegler School property.
If approved, construction work would take place in 2014.