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Some merchants may be asked to pay higher fee to be part of Downtown Lawrence sidewalk sale; fun center idea still alive; Wal-Mart plans to reopen recycling center

I am used to the Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale costing me significant money. (How significant? I find it is easier to measure it in Brinks trucks rather than actual dollars.) But now costs may be rising for some businesses that participate in the sale as well.

Downtown Lawrence Inc. is looking to crack down on businesses that are participating in the sale but aren't registering and paying the accompanying fee to Downtown Lawrence Inc.

But the nonprofit downtown group will need some help from Lawrence City Hall to tighten the rules. City commissioners in the next few weeks are expected to decide whether to wade into the thicket. Whether it gets as messy as that "disagreement" regarding who had the last 40 percent off Jayhawk golf shirt, I can't say. (Really, my attorney tells me to never talk about that "incident" any more.)

The issue, though, seems to have the makings of a debate. On one hand it involves the ability of some businesses to cheaply use the sidewalks they help pay for. On the other hand, it involves some businesses taking advantage of a bunch of money spent by Downtown Lawrence Inc. without being a member of that group.

Here's the situation: Downtown Lawrence Inc. is the official sponsor of the sidewalk sale. The group spends about $4,000 per year on advertising for the event, plus other money for portable toilets, cooling stations, event insurance, and other such items. The expenses are paid for through $400 per year membership dues that downtown businesses pay to be a part of Downtown Lawrence Inc.

Not all merchants downtown, however, choose to be a member of Downtown Lawrence Inc. But on sidewalk sale day, those merchants can simply go to City Hall and buy a sidewalk sale permit for $10. Technically, you don't even have to be a downtown merchant to get the permit, although there is some language that you need to have permission from the adjacent property owner to set up a sidewalk booth. At least a dozen businesses last year used that $10 permit process to set up a booth on sidewalk sale day, said Sally Zogry, executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc. Zogry said several other businesses simply skipped the permit process and set up a booth on their own.

What Zogry and her members are proposing is that Downtown Lawrence Inc. be granted exclusive use of the city's right-of-way on sidewalk sale day. In other words, the city would not issue any $10 sidewalk sale permits for that day. Instead, if a business wants to have a booth, it would need to pay a $200 fee to Downtown Lawrence Inc. Zogry said that fee would be applied to membership dues to the organization. But if the business for whatever reason doesn't want to be a member, it can be treated as a one-time sidewalk sale fee.

Zogry said Downtown Lawrence Inc. also wants to limit the business that can participate in the sale to only those that are based in downtown.

"It is not called the Lawrence sidewalk sale," Zogry said, explaining a major goal of the event is to highlight downtown businesses.

Nonprofit groups from outside downtown would continue to be a part of the event. They pay a $100 sidewalk sale fee to Downtown Lawrence Inc.

Zogry said the $200 fee is not unreasonable, given the amount of shoppers the event attracts. The crowd is normally measured in the tens of thousands.

"The event is huge," Zogry said. "There are people who make $50,000 or $60,000 that day."

(And then they make even more when the people in line behind my wife get to check out.)

We'll see how commissioners react to the request. The proposal will create situations where some downtown merchants won't be allowed to set up a booth on the sidewalk in front of their store unless they pay the $200 fee to Downtown Lawrence Inc.

Zogry said she understands some merchants may be upset by that. She said she'll remind those merchants that they can get the $10 sidewalk permit from City Hall any other day of the year.

"They want to have their sale that day because they want to take advantage of the event we pay to put on," Zogry said. "The event has to be paid for, and it is expensive."

Perhaps complicating the matter is that Downtown Lawrence Inc. does receive some public taxpayer subsidy. The city provides about $42,000 in general funding to Downtown Lawrence Inc.

Commissioners will sort it out in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, mark your calendars for the sale. It will be July 17 from sunup to sundown. I've already begun making my preparations: Brinks has been called, and my attorney is on retainer.

In other news and notes around town:

• It may not be as much fun as picking through the sidewalk sale items of Ernst & Son Hardware, but I've heard from many of you that a mini-golf course, go-karts, and other such items would be a welcome addition to town. In other words, a "family fun center" type of business.

Well, although a proposal for a family fun center near Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive has been scuttled after neighbors in the areas expressed concerns, I'm told the idea is not yet dead. Mike Riling, a Lawrence attorney for the development group that proposed the West Lawrence project, says the developers are actively looking for another Lawrence site.

No word yet on where the project may land. Riling indicated the search process is difficult. Land prices are high in Lawrence, and the city's zoning code does place some significant restriction on where such outdoor centers can be located.

At Tuesday's City Commission meeting, commissioners declined to make a change to the city's zoning code that would make it easier to locate an outdoor fun center in neighborhood shopping centers. But commissioners also urged the group to keep looking for a site. Commissioners indicated they may be willing to make some changes to the zoning code to accommodate a well-planned project.

Commissioner Mike Dever went so far as to lament the lack of entertainment options for kids in the city. He said he has frequently heard about that issue from his two daughters during his seven years on the commission.

"Any outdoor activity would be great in this town," Dever said. "Thank goodness we have parks and recreation, but there isn't much of anything else for kids to do."

• These days you can't even have the kids go play in the recycling pile at the Wal-Mart recycling center. The center has been closed for several days. But before you start to worry that the center has shut down in anticipation of the city of Lawrence starting its curbside recycling service in October, don't. A manager at Wal-Mart told me the center had a mechanical problem, and it has taken longer than expected to get it fixed. However, I did inquire about what the long-term future for the recycling center was, but I didn't get much of an answer. That probably will involve a call to Bentonville, Ark. I would expect the center to reopen shortly, but its long-term prospects are something to keep an eye on.

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    Lawrence’s sleepy heads land city on national top 10 list; medical office development underway near west Walmart

    Lawrence has made another national top 10 list, and, if the results are any indication, we'll likely comprehend its meaning sometime around noon. You see, there's data suggesting Lawrence is not much of a morning town.

    Data guru Nate Silver of the website fivethirtyeight.com published a new analysis today that found Lawrence is the sixth most nocturnal metro area in the country.

    Well, kind of. What Silver measured was the median time people arrive to work in the various metro areas across the country. The American Community Survey, which is part of the Census Bureau, asks such questions.

    Silver found that Lawrence's median arrival time is 8:15 a.m. That is a full 20 minutes later than the U.S. median of 7:55 a.m. Only five other cities in the country had later average start times than Lawrence. They were:

    — New York, 8:24 a.m.

    — Atlantic City, N.J. 8:23 a.m.

    — San Jose, Calif.: 8:21 a.m.

    — Ithaca, N.Y.: 8:19 a.m.

    — San Francisco: 8:17 a.m

    Silver provided a list of the top 20, and a few university communities showed up on that list. In addition to Ithaca and Lawrence, there also was Logan, Utah, 8:12 a.m; Boulder, Colo., 8:11 a.m.; Bloomington, Ind., 8:09 a.m.; and Champaign, Ill.; 8:09 a.m.

    But one thing that was striking on the list is that Lawrence was really the only community from Middle America that made it. So, I think it is safe for Lawrence to tout itself as the Sleepy Head of the Plains. (We could have a parade and everything, but geez, you have to get up so early for parades.)

    Silver did look at a few select metro areas and found that Kansas City gets its workday started at 7:51 a.m.; St. Louis at 7:50 a.m; Denver at 7:55 a.m.; Chicago at 8:02 a.m. Even Seattle, which has made an entire industry out of having an extra cup of coffee, gets started at 7:57 a.m.

    As far as the earliest rising community, Hinesville, Ga., wins that distinction. In case you are wondering, Hinesville is home to Fort Stewart and the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

    Nate Silver is clearly smarter than I am because he found all this information in some ream of American Community Survey Data. I looked because I wanted to share with you what the start times were fro some other communities such as Topeka and Manhattan and Columbia, Mo. But I couldn't find such data, which has made me feel very inferior. (I have gone and registered the Web domain negativefivethirtyeight.info.)

    But if I happen to stumble upon it, I'll share it — right after my workday nap.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • The approximately seven to eight people who get out of bed before the sun goes down in Lawrence have noticed that there is some earth-moving work underway just north of the Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive intersection. And they have wanted to know what will be built there.

    Well, plans at City Hall indicate it will be a new outpatient medical office. Plans have been filed to build a new one-story, 9,500 square-foot medical office building at 4930 Overland Drive. That is basically just north and east of the Walmart near Sixth and Wakarusa.

    A development group out of Tonganoxie owns the property and is constructing the building. But I don't yet have any information on what medical office will be locating in the spot. I've got a call into the Tonganoxie company, however, and hope to have more information to report.

    It will be interesting to watch whether the numerous vacant lots around the Wakarusa Walmart finally begin to see some development activity. There are multiple locations around Walmart to house restaurants or smaller retailers.

    • People also have noticed dirt work underway at the former Phillips 66 gasoline station near 25th and Iowa streets. Don't look for a new development to spring up at the location right away, however.

    But Brandon Haverty, the owner of the property, recently told me that the work is being done as part of an agreement with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to remove the old fuel tanks and fuel canopy from the site. Plans don't call for the property to become a gasoline station again.

    But Haverty said the location is getting good interest from retailers, restaurants and others who want to redevelop the site.

    "It is a great corridor," Haverty said of the south Iowa Street stretch. "Markets like Lawrence, Manhattan and even Columbia, Mo., are great retail markets right now."

    Haverty said the site would accommodate about a 3,000 square-foot building, which could house businesses such as small restaurant users (he mentioned Qdoba just as an example of the size and type of restaurant), cellphone stores, or an office user who is looking for high visibility.

    Haverty said he hadn't yet reached a deal with a tenant, but said discussions are underway.

    "We have options to choose from at this point," Haverty said.

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    Dillons completes renovations at Sixth and Lawrence store; Wal-Mart begins work at South Iowa location

    Surely this age we're living in will go down in the history books as . . . The Gilded Grocery Era. I will tell my grandkids how there used to be a day when you couldn't go into a grocery store and get fresh ground peanut butter, and they will laugh at me. (Maybe because of the peanut butter, or perhaps because by then I'll be an old man with eyebrows like hedge rows.)

    But the point is, we're living in a great age to buy groceries. Nearly every place in Lawrence that sells groceries has undergone some type of significant renovation in the last several years. As we've reported several times over the last few months, the Dillons store at Sixth Street and Lawrence Avenue is the latest.

    Dillons officials on Wednesday declared the renovation of the store complete, and held a well-attended ribbon cutting. The major structural change to the building was the addition of a drive-thru lane for the store's pharmacy. But there was more to the renovations than that. Dillons pulled building permits for $1.2 million worth of construction on the site, making it the 10th largest building project in the city, thus far, in 2013. Here's a look at other improvements at the store:

    • A revamping of the natural and organic foods department, which is branded Nature's Market. It includes a new bulk foods section.

    • Hand-made sushi

    • New selections of gourmet cheeses and an olive bar. (My grandkids will laugh when I tell them I used to have to order gin to get an olive at a bar.)

    • An expanded salad bar

    • A new beverage center with expanded fountain drinks and coffee selections

    • A new floral department

    • New color schemes throughout the store, and new energy efficient lighting

    Dillons is holding special events through Saturday to celebrate the renovations. The Sixth and Lawrence store will host a t-shirt sidewalk sale from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Friday and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday. On Friday and Saturday, pay attention here, the store will offer large amounts of food samples. So, while I'm uncertain what historians will call this age we're living in, I have no doubt what this weekend will be labeled at the Lawhorn household: The Toothpick Times. As in: Kids, any food with a toothpick stuck in it, grab it, because that's supper tonight. (Don't feel sorry for them. They love it, especially when we put on the fake mustaches and wigs to go through a second time.)

    •••

    What's better than writing about one retail renovation? Well, writing about two, of course. Bob Catlin, the store manager at the Walmart on South Iowa Street, confirmed to me renovations are underway for that store.

    Catlin said perhaps the most noticeable interior improvements will be all new fixtures and cases for the store's produce department. The exterior of the store, however, also will get a new look. He said the entire exterior of the building will be repainted with a different color scheme, and new signs for the building and along the road are on the way. All the departments of the store will remain open during the renovations, which are expected to be complete sometime next month.

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