Maybe it is because today is my anniversary (18 happy years, thank you) that I realize the description “slightly above average” is perfectly fine. If I were slightly above average at taking out the trash, that would be a real win. If I were slightly above average at picking up dirty clothes, a parade may be thrown. (You don’t want to know what is thrown now.) So, remember that as I report a new ranking of small cities in America shows Lawrence is slightly above average.
The financial website WalletHub has ranked about 1,200 U.S. cities that range in size from 25,000 to 100,000 people. After looking at factors such as housing prices, quality of schools, income levels, restaurants, health statistics and other metrics, Lawrence was ranked in the 54th percentile. That means we are better than 54 percent of all the other small communities in America. Not exactly the type of slogan to put on a T-shirt, but not bad either.
There are some other ways to spin the data, though. Of all the small cities ranked in Kansas, Lawrence is No. 4 in the state. It is the top ranked community outside of Johnson County. If your SUV isn’t nice enough to live in Johnson County, come to Lawrence. Now that would work for a T-shirt.
Here’s a look at how Lawrence stacks up compared with other Kansas communities:
• Leawood: 99th percentile. Actually, it was ranked No. 3 overall in the country.
• Lenexa: 88th percentile.
• Shawnee: 85th percentile
• Lawrence: 54th percentile
• Dodge City: 52nd percentile
• Salina: 46th percentile
• Manhattan: 45th percentile
• Garden City: 39th percentile
• Hutchinson: 29th percentile
• Leavenworth: 25th percentile
I also took a look at how other Big 12 communities fared in the ranking. Thankfully, mathematics awareness isn’t a category that is scored in the ranking because the Big 12 has only 10 communities. Of those 10, only five are below 100,000 in population. Of those five, Lawrence ended up being, basically, average.
• Ames, Iowa: 80th percentile
• Morgantown, W.V.: 67th percentile
• Lawrence: 54th percentile
• Manhattan: 45th percentile
• Stillwater: 38th percentile
As is the case with most of these rankings, they are really subjective. How much weight do you give to our coffee shops per capita statistic versus our median family income statistic? Change the weighting a bit, and the ranking changes a lot.
But looking at the underlying data used to create these rankings can be instructive. Looking at Lawrence’s it gives you an idea of what our strong suits are compared with other communities. Generally, we are pretty healthy and educated, and we have a lot of amenities for a small community. Here’s a look at the major categories that were scored and where we ranked among the approximately 1,200 communities that were ranked. So, any ranking less than 600 means we are above average. Any ranking greater than 600 means we are below average. (I’ve included this explanation for Big 12 mathematicians.)
• Quality of life: We ranked 100th in this metric. It looked at our per capita numbers for things like bars, restaurants, coffee shops, performing arts theaters, movie theaters and other entertainment type of establishments. It also looked at commute times to work, the percentage of people who walk to work and how many hours we spend working per week. Being a top 100 community in quality of life is notable. It helps drive the image that many people have of Lawrence: It is a fun place. We have the best quality of life rating in the state. Next is Manhattan at No. 157. Notably, the Johnson County communities all ranked 700 or greater.
• Education and health: We ranked No. 187 in this metric. It looks at the quality of the school system, the number of high school graduates in the community, the number of people who have health insurance, the percentage of the population that is obese, the share of people who are physically active and several other factors. This is a pride point in Lawrence, and this shows we are doing well nationally. However, we are fifth in the state. Leawood, Shawnee, Manhattan, and Lenexa all ranked higher than Lawrence.
• Economic health: We ranked No. 443. It looks at factors like population growth, income growth, unemployment rates, poverty levels and debt levels. We again ranked fifth in this category behind all the Johnson County communities and Manhattan.
• Affordability: This was our lowest category at No. 912. It looks at both average housing prices and average rent prices and compares them with average income levels. College communities always are at a disadvantage in this ranking because there are many college students who don’t receive income but aren’t necessarily facing a housing affordability issue because their parents are paying their rent, for example. Lawrence had the second worst affordability ranking in the state. Manhattan’s was worse at No. 1,042. Notably, of the five Big 12 sites that were ranked, Lawrence was the most affordable. All the other towns had rankings of 1,000 or above.
• Safety: The report measured safety, but Lawrence wasn’t scored on that metric. The report had trouble getting the data from the FBI on several communities, and Lawrence was one of them. So Lawrence got a pass on safety for the purposes of this report. As recent events have illustrated, community leaders can’t afford to pass over that subject. Many more tragedies like the mass shooting that occurred on Massachusetts Street will make every other ranking irrelevant.
A presidential poll that shows how different Lawrence is than the rest of Kansas; new study ranks best small cities in America
In case you hadn’t noticed, it is polling season. I think we probably agree that poll season would be more enjoyable if it involved politicians and pollsters climbing tall poles. Instead, it involves trying to predict a winner of the presidential race, which now appears is being controlled by Fidel Castro and a pair of voodoo dolls.
We reported Sunday on a statewide poll that showed Donald Trump was ahead of Hillary Clinton by 8 points in Kansas. That was before the latest pin prick, also known as the FBI’s announcement regarding new emails potentially related to its investigation of Clinton. So, the results may be different now.
But we also have a Douglas County poll on the presidential race, and it does a good job of illustrating just how different we are from the rest of the state. Among a sample of registered voters in Douglas County, Clinton is ahead of Trump by about 42 percentage points. In other words, there is a 50 point difference in Lawrence’s preference versus that of the state as a whole.
That sounds like a new bumper sticker to me: Lawrence: 50 percent different than the state of Kansas. (I know what the rest of the state is thinking. That bumper sticker will never work in Lawrence. It is too long to fit on a Prius bumper.)
Of course, all of this depends on these two polls being reasonably accurate. The statewide poll was conducted by Fort Hays State University’s Docking Institute of Public Affairs. The Douglas County poll was conducted by the Journal-World in partnership with Google Surveys. The Fort Hays State poll was a traditional telephone poll. The Journal-World poll was a form of internet polling. I guess I would label the poll as quasi-scientific. (There are science teachers choking on their cereal over such a phrase, especially the ones who know I only quasi-passed several science courses.)
The Google Survey poll is much different than a standard Internet poll that allows people to vote when they want to vote and as many times as they want to vote. Instead, Google uses a program that randomly samples a portion of the approximately 35,000 daily users of the LJWorld.com website. Users have no ability to choose whether they are asked to participate in the poll or not. The survey is presented when people click on an article, and they are asked to complete the survey before they view the article. And yes, we know some of you just quickly click on an answer to get to the article. Google factors that into its analysis by red-flagging the answers that were given very quickly.
So, since we will have election results in a week, this may be a good test to see how accurate the Google Survey poll is. As a side note, we’re conducting another one currently since it is possible the FBI story may change the race some.
Regardless, here is a look at the findings from the Douglas County poll, which ended up with a sample of about 700 registered Douglas County voters who say they are likely to vote in the upcoming election:
— 62.7 percent plan to vote for Clinton; 19.8 percent for Trump; 6.8 percent for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson; 4.3 percent for Green Party candidate Jill Stein; and 6.4 percent plan to vote for none of the above.
— In the U.S. Senate race, 62.8 percent plan to vote for Democrat Patrick Wiesner; 26.3 percent for Republican Sen. Jerry Moran; 6.7 percent for Libertarian Robert D. Garrard; and 4.2 percent for none of the above.
— In the 2nd Kansas Congressional district race, 61.5 percent plan to vote for Democrat Britani Potter; 26.2 percent for Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins; 8 percent for Libertarian James Houston Bales; and 4.2 percent for none of the above.
— And when respondents were asked to rate their level of confidence that the election process in Kansas will produce results that accurately reflect the will of the voters, 60 percent of respondents ranked their confidence level 7 or higher on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest confidence. Just under 30 percent ranked their confidence level a 3 or below.
As for the presidential results, if Clinton does win about 63 percent of the Douglas County vote, that would be in line with past results. Obama won 60 percent of the Douglas County vote in 2012 and 64 percent in 2008. The difference comes on the Republican side. Trump’s 20 percent showing would be well below other Republicans in past elections. Romney in 2012 won nearly 36 percent of the Douglas County vote, while McCain won 33 percent in 2008.
Related stories — Journal-World Voter Guide: 2016 Douglas County ballot
In other news and notes from around town:
• This may not mean much more to you than any of the presidential polls, but there is a new report out that attempts to rank about 1,000 small cities in the U.S., and Lawrence is on it.
The folks at the financial website WalletHub ranked 1,268 cities with a population between 25,000 and 100,000 using primarily Census data and other federal statistics to measure income, housing, health and other categories.
Lawrence ranked in the 34th percentile of the study. Top-ranked communities are in the 99th percentile. Average cities are in the 50th percentile. So, the 34th percentile is in the bottom half of the ranking. Interestingly, we ranked last among all the Kansas communities ranked.
However, Lawrence ranked in the top 20 percent in the country in several categories including: economic health, No. 183; education and health No. 198 and quality of life No. 229. Lawrence received an incomplete in the category of safety rank. I’m guessing that is because the WalletHub folks couldn’t find Lawrence’s crime statistics on the FBI site. When we did our report on Lawrence crime trends, we couldn’t find information on the FBI site either. We had to get the data from the Kansas Bureau of Investigations.
The area where Lawrence performed poorly, though was in the “affordability rank.” We ranked No. 910 out of 1,268. More on that in a moment. But first, here is a look at how other Kansas communities ranked overall in the report.
— Leawood: 99th percentile
— Shawnee: 92nd percentile
— Lenexa: 88th percentile
— Salina: 60th percentile
— Dodge City: 59th percentile
— Leavenworth: 51st percentile
— Hutchinson: 50th percentile
— Garden City: 46th percentile
— Manhattan: 40th percentile
— Lawrence: 34th percentile
I’m dubious about some of the findings of this report. I’m pretty confident there are several cities on this Kansas list that would trade overall situations with Lawrence today. Lawrence and Manhattan both may be hurt some by being college communities and naturally having some income statistics that are skewed downward by the large number of students who don’t earn much at this point in their lives.
But, the affordability issue is one that is drawing a lot of attention from Lawrence leaders. This report actually serves as a good reminder about how differently affordability can be viewed. Any guesses on what the third most affordable small city in America is, according to this report? Answer: Leawood.
Let me assure you home prices in Leawood are far higher than they are in Lawrence. By my calculations, the average wage earner in Lawrence could afford a home in Leawood as long as the human body can withstand giving about 182 quarts of plasma per day.
The median value of a home in Leawood is $210,000 more than the median value of a home in Lawrence. Leawood’s median home checks in at about $388,000. But the median household income in Leawood is also about $87,000 more than it is in Lawrence. Leawood’s median income checks in at about $134,000.
So, while it is still a little tough to hear affordable and Leawood together, the report does highlight that affordability doesn’t necessarily hinge on how much a home costs, but rather how much you have left over after you pay your housing expenses.
That means there are a couple of different ways to address affordability. You can look at lowering how much homes sell for, work to increase the amount people earn, or some combination of the two. Lawrence leaders understand that equation. Doing any of those things on a large scale, though, is difficult. Lawrence leaders have a lot to think about to truly find an answer for Lawrence’s affordability issues.
One of Lawrence’s older restaurants set to close at end of month; report says Kansas taxpayers getting good value on taxes paid
At an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, you know you have gotten your money’s worth when they replace the general’s chicken with a peace treaty. I’m not sure I ever quite got to that point at Lawrence’s Panda Garden restaurant, and now we have little time left to get there. After 30 years in business, Panda Garden is closing at the end of the month.
Owner Lucy White told me a deal has been struck to sell the Panda Garden property at 1500 W. Sixth St. to an out-of-town buyer who plans to open another restaurant at the location. I didn’t get other details from White about the pending restaurant. White, to be honest, was having a hard enough time discussing the decision to close Panda Garden after three decades in business.
“I have been very emotional,” White said. “We’ve had such a good run. We have so many, many, many loyal friends that have come from this business.”
White came to America from Taiwan more than 30 years ago. Eventually, she would bring her family members to America. Brothers, a sister and other relatives of White’s all work at the business, and also used to work at the Plum Tree, a restaurant on south Iowa Street that the family also operated until it closed in 2008.
White said that while the decision to sell was not easy, she said the family made the decision for the right reasons.
“It is really hard work,” she said of running the restaurant. “It takes a lot of dedication and devotion, and we want to do it well or we don’t want to do it.”
For those of you not familiar with Panda Garden, it is not your traditional Chinese buffet restaurant. Indeed, the buffet has been offered at times, but it has gained a following from its extensive made-to-order menu. The restaurant offers up some Americanized dishes, but also has a menu that is more focused on traditional Chinese dishes, or so I’m told. (I’ll be honest, my Chinese dining usually involves arming myself with a half-dozen egg rolls and going into battle with General Tso’s chicken.)
The Panda Garden’s closing will mark the end of one of the older restaurants in Lawrence. Over the years, I’ve had occasion to try to keep track of what restaurants have some of the older lineage. Panda Garden is part of a group that certainly qualifies as an old-timer, but it is not the oldest. The last time I did any real research on this topic was back in 2014 when Buffalo Bob’s Smokehouse closed in downtown Lawrence. It was perhaps the oldest downtown restaurant at the time, and one of the older in the city. For that story, I checked out an old Polk City Directory from 1977 to see what restaurants were listed then that still exist today. Before you read the next paragraph, make your guesses on the five oldest restaurants I found in Lawrence at that time.
In no particular order, they are: La Tropicana in North Lawrence; The Flamingo Club (yes, it serves food) in North Lawrence; the Wagon Wheel Cafe in the Oread neighborhood, the Taco Bell on 23rd Street and the McDonald’s on 23rd Street.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Not that folks in political circles need anything more to argue about, but this report probably will provide more fodder nonetheless. A new ranking is out that shows Kansas taxpayers have one of the best returns on investments of state tax dollars of any state in the country.
The folks at the financial website WalletHub have been doing a series of reports related to taxes and state governments. They came out with one today that tries to tie it all together and tries to measure the bang for the buck that residents get from their state and local taxes.
As I frequently caution, these rankings have a lot of subjectivity in them. But WalletHub generally uses good data sources, and it is a nonpartisan group. It is not trying to make one party look good or bad, so I think it is worth passing along.
The WalletHub study found Kansas has the 11th best return on investment of any state in the country. WalletHub looked at about 20 factors and other rankings to determine the quality level of state services. Those included rankings of the state’s public school system, its universities, its hospitals, life expectancy averages, health insurance premiums, crime rates, vehicle accident rates, incarceration rates, unemployment rates, household incomes, job growth totals, poverty rates, rankings of road conditions, commute times, air pollution measures, and a few other factors. It weighted those and combined those to come up with an overall “government services rank.” The study found Kansas had the 16th highest government services rank.
In case you are wondering, middle America was a mixed bag when it came to good government service. Here’s a look at how some other states from our region scored in the government services category:
— No. 4: Iowa
— No. 6. Nebraska
— No. 14. Colorado
— No. 16 Kansas
— No. 34 Missouri
— No. 45 Oklahoma
The WalletHub folks then looked at the total amount of taxes paid in each state and calculated a per capita tax number by using the adult population of each state. They call that their “total taxes per capita rank.” Despite Kansas making significant changes to reduce the amount of taxes business owners pay, Kansas was still middle of the pack on that ranking. Kansas ranked No. 24. Here’s a look at others in the region, with the lower the number meaning the lower amount of taxes per capita:
— No. 4: Missouri
— No. 12: Colorado
— No. 17: Oklahoma
— No. 24: Kansas
— No. 29: Iowa
— No. 28 Nebraska
So, if you are scoring at home, Missouri collects a lot less tax per person than Kansas does, but its quality of government service also is deemed to be less than what is offered in Kansas.
Next, WalletHub combined the two measurements — quality of service and amount of taxes paid — to create a return on investment ranking for each state. As I noted earlier, Kansas ranked No. 11 in that category. That is good, but it wasn’t good enough to be ranked top in our region. Many in our region fared well. Here’s a look:
— No. 3: Colorado
— No. 7: Missouri
— No. 9: Iowa
— No. 10: Nebraska
— No. 11: Kansas
— No. 33: Oklahoma
So, make of that what you will. There are a number of things the ranking didn’t measure — budget deficits, bond ratings and other measures of financial soundness come to mind — but it is interesting to see where Kansas and our neighbors rank, and to think about the tax policies and spending decisions that play into those rankings.
In case you are wondering, the top five states in the ranking are:
— No. 1: New Hampshire
— No. 2: South Dakota
— No. 3: Colorado
— No. 4: Virginia
— No. 5: Florida
The bottom five are:
— No. 46: Delaware
— No. 47: New York
— No. 48: Hawaii
— No. 49: Alaska
— No. 50: North Dakota
Lawrence is a top 10 city when it comes to being a landing place for college students, according to a new ranking.
The financial website WalletHub has ranked Lawrence as the No. 10 small city in the country for college students. Lawrence also ranked No. 24 in the country across all city sizes, according to the study that was released today.
In a study titled Best and Worst College Cities and Towns in America, the folks at WalletHub attempted to measure which communities “promise the best combination of academic, social and economic opportunities for students.”
The study pegged Lawrence as No. 10 in the list of cities with populations of 125,000 or less. Communities had to have at least 7,500 college students as residents to qualify for the study. No. 1 on the list of small cities was Ann Arbor, Mich., home to the University of Michigan. A few college communities from the region also ranked high on the list. Iowa City — which is led by one of the three candidates for the Lawrence city manager’s position — ranked No. 3 on the list of best small cities, and Columbia, Mo., was No. 6. Lawrence was right between Athens, Ga., at No. 9 and Davis, Calif., at No. 11. Lawrence ranked ahead of regional communities such as Boulder, Colo., at No. 13, Norman, Okla., at No. 18 and Greeley, Colo., at No. 51.
It should be noted that the study isn’t comprehensive. For example, Manhattan, for some reason, wasn’t ranked. It has enough students to qualify, but I think statistics weren’t available for some of the smaller communities in order for WalletHub to rank them on all 22 metrics it used to create the study.
The report looked at factors such as average rental costs, tuition costs, number of students per 100,000 people, number of nightlife options per capita, crime rates, educational rankings for universities in the community, job growth rates, the number of graduates who move out of the community, and several other factors.
The report provided a few individual statistics for Lawrence. Here’s a look at how the community ranked in several categories compared with the 116 other small cities that made the list. A score of 1 is best, while a score of 58 ranks as average:
— No. 10 — Percentage of part-time jobs in the workforce
— No. 14 — Number of students per capita
— No. 17 — Quality of higher education
— No. 23 — Number of nightlife options per capita
— No. 24 — City accessibility, which measures public transportation, walkability and other such factors.
— No. 26 — Cost of higher education
— No. 40 — Adjusted cost of living for young people
— No. 41 — Brain drain, which measures the number of college graduates moving from the community.
As I mentioned earlier, the study also includes an overall ranking, which rates cities regardless of size. Lawrence finished No. 24 — out of 326 — in that ranking. Ann Arbor, Mich., finished No. 1 in the overall ranking. That overall ranking included several Kansas communities that have at least 7,500 students living within the city limits. Here’s a look at the ranking for several cities across the state and the region.
— No. 3 — Iowa City
— No. 8 — Austin, Texas
— No. 10 — Columbia, Mo.
— No. 11 — Champaign, Ill
— No. 14 — Madison, Wis.
— No. 26 — St. Louis, Mo.
— No. 28 — Fayetteville, Ark.
— No. 29 — Boulder, Colo.
— No. 31 — Fort Collins, Colo.
— No. 46 — Lincoln, Neb.
— No. 49 — Norman, Okla.
— No. 54 — Waco, Texas
— No. 65 — Lubbock, Texas
— No. 84 — Tulsa, Okla.
— No. 101 — Kansas City, Mo.
— No. 108 — Omaha, Neb.
— No. 114 — Springfield, Mo.
— No. 116 — Overland Park
— No. 120 — Oklahoma City
— No. 143 — Olathe
— No. 191 — Wichita
— No. 213 — Topeka
West Lawrence lands corporate headquarters for financial services firm; Lawrence, other Kansas cities mediocre in new economic ranking
A financial services firm with offices in Johnson County and Topeka is moving its corporate headquarters to Lawrence, and will be bringing about 20 jobs in the process.
DM Bruce Associates has completed a deal to buy a west Lawrence office building at 4911 Legends Drive to house its financial advisers, planners and administrative staff who provide financial planning services for families and small businesses across the country. The company plans to have 18 jobs in Lawrence when it opens later this year.
“Running two locations was quite the operation for us,” said Zach Stover, vice president of operations for the company. “There are a lot of things we feel like we can be more efficient at by consolidating. Lawrence is the halfway point, and it just made a lot of sense for us to make the move.”
The company is locating in the building that formerly was occupied by Harris Computer Systems. Stover said the approximately 6,500 square foot building was purchased with longterm plans in mind.
“I still feel like we have a lot of potential to grow,” Stover said. “We take on and launch new financial advisers when we see the opportunity. It is a nice piece of land, and we could build additional space if we need to down the line.”
Marilyn Bittenbender of Lawrence’s Colliers International brokered the sale of the building.
Stover said he hopes the company will be operating in the Lawrence office by December. The company plans to keep satellite offices open in Topeka and Overland Park.
The company has been in operation in one form or another since 1974, Stover said. The company provides services in investment management, insurance consulting, financial planning, and also has a company that provides consulting services to other, independent financial advisers, according to the company’s website.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I have more news from our friends at WalletHub, the financial website that as we reported yesterday ranked Kansas as the 9th best state in the country for teachers. This time, the company is ranking cities with the fastest growing economies. Despite all our teachers rolling in the dough, Lawrence didn’t fare that well. (Teachers, I jest. I would have thought six years of high school would have taught me that my humor is often lost on the education profession.)
Lawrence’s economy ranked No. 317 out of 515 communities that were studied.
The study looked at factors such as population growth, growth of working-age population, poverty rates, median household income growth rates; unemployment rates, job growth, the ratio of full-time to part-time jobs, growth in the number of business establishments, and median home prices. The report used data from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Unfortunately, the report didn’t provide all the underlying statistics for each community, so I can’t tell you how Lawrence fared in each category.
But I can tell you how Lawrence did in comparison to other communities that we often track. Lawrence finished No. 118 out of the 211 small cities with populations of less than 100,000 people. Here is a look at how some regional cities did in the overall list of 515 cities:
— Columbia, Mo.: No. 32
— Lubbock, Texas: No 65
— Oklahoma City: No. 93
— Norman, Okla.: No. 103
— Boulder, Colo.: No. 123
— Iowa City: No. 165
— Lincoln, Neb.: No. 194
— Springfield Mo. : No. 238
— St. Joseph, Mo.: No. 243
— Olathe: No. 250
— Kansas City, Mo.: No. 255
— Wichita: No. 268
— Lawrence: No. 317
— Independence, Mo.: No. 321
— Des Moines, Iowa: No. 324
— Kansas City, Kan. : No. 342
— Overland Park: No. 363
— Topeka, No. 392
— St. Louis: No. 490
So, Lawrence wasn’t alone among Kansas cities that didn’t fare great in the rankings. Only one Kansas community — Olathe — finished in the top half of the rankings, and that wasn’t by much. One thing we have going against us, it appears, is we didn’t strike a lot of oil. Texas communities, which were booming as a result of a strong oil and gas economy, took nine of the top 10 spots. If the rankings were done on the current conditions, it likely would look much different as the oil industry is much weaker today.
I’ll throw in this reminder, as I often do with WalletHub studies: You have to figure out what you want to make of these. The ranking process is clearly subjective. The rankings are determined by how much weight you want to give any one statistic, and which statistics you want to look at to begin with. But I like passing along reports like this one because they are based on valid government statistics that are worth paying attention to.
Now, are the rankings a matter of debate? They appear to be, given some of the feedback I’ve gotten from teachers today who are not sure Kansas is the ninth best state in the U.S. for teachers. I had one invite me to a school lunch today to see firsthand how good teachers have it. I told her I may indeed come. Caviar and prime rib sounds good today.
All these years later, and they still don’t find me funny.
City set to approve 120-foot cell phone tower in eastern Lawrence; study finds Kansas among the top states in U.S. for teachers
Well, we have all heard about the dangers of talking on our cell phones while driving. Or about texting while driving. But for some reason, there is one cell phone-related driving danger that rarely ever gets discussed — a cell phone tower falling in front of your car. Fear not, Lawrence city commissioners will tackle that one tonight.
Commissioners will consider giving final approval for Verizon to build a 120-foot tall tower at 2001 Moodie Road, which is the site of the Ottawa Coop grain elevators. Commissioners gave the plans preliminary approval in July, but at that time asked Verizon to make a few changes to the exact location of the tower.
Commissioners at the time wanted to change the location of the tower to provide greater distance between the tower and a nearby building. Changes were made, but Verizon hasn’t been able to come up with a location that meets all the standard requirements for towers in the city.
Plans for towers are required to show where a tower would land in the unlikely event that a tower collapses. Standard city regulations call for the “fall zone” of a tower to be contained on the property where the tower is located. That’s not the case with these plans. The city’s planning staff has calculated that the fall zone for the proposed tower would extend five feet into the southbound lane of Moodie Road.
The issue, however, may not play much of a role in whether the tower wins approval. The city’s planning department, in a memo to commissioners, said “the risk of the tower falling into the southbound driving lane is very small in staff’s opinion.” The city can issue a waiver from the standard requirements, and that is staff’s recommendation on this project.
The Brook Creek Neighborhood Association also is recommending approval of the project. It likes this site much better than the previously proposed site at 1725 Bullene Avenue. City commissioners rejected that site after multiple concerns were expressed that the tower would be too near homes. Verizon has sued the city in federal court over that denial, but it is expected that case will be dropped if this location is approved.
So, while the chances of a cell phone tower falling in front of your car while driving are rare, I felt I should at least make you aware of the situation so you can have a plan. I know what my plan is: I’ll slow down to 45 mph and immediately take a picture and text “OMG!” and “WTF!” (which of course stands for “Why Tower Fall”) to everyone I know.
Commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. tonight at City Hall.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There has to be a lot of teachers in Lawrence — the education capital of Kansas — feeling mighty good these days. After all, Kansas is one of the better places in the country to be a teacher. Maybe you have been too busy watching cell towers to notice, but Kansas has been ranked the 9th best state in the country for teachers, according to a new study by the financial website WalletHub.
The website looked at a variety of factors to compile their rankings. Here’s where Kansas ranked on the various metrics:
— 16th for average starting salary for teachers
— 25th for median annual salary for teachers
— 27th for the projected number of teachers per student by year 2020
— 11th for unemployment rate
— 17th for the 10-year change in teacher salaries
— 3rd for pupil to teacher ratio. The study found that only Vermont and North Dakota have better pupil-to-teacher ratios than Kansas.
The website used data from the Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Education Association, the National Center for Educational Statistics, among others to compile its findings.
Kansas fared better than any other state in middle America. Here’s a look at how others around the region performed:
— Nebraska: 18
— Missouri: 24
— Colorado: 28
— Oklahoma: 41
The latest study continues a trend – at least from WalletHub — of good marks for the state’s school system. Earlier this year, WalletHub ranked the state’s school system as the 12th best in the country. The website examined a host of federal statistics on test scores, pupil-to-teacher ratios, incidents of violence, dropout rates and other metrics. Kansas was the second ranked state in middle America in that study. Colorado beat Kansas by finishing as the No. 2 ranked system in the country. Other border states were Nebraska, 17th; Missouri, 28th; Oklahoma, 33rd.
West Lawrence restaurant plans major expansion; details on a Ninth and New Hampshire mishap; Kansas school system gets high ranking
You bet I’ve got a chop house on my mind, and it is not just because I’ve already spent a good part of my week “helping” my 4-H kids wrangle their hogs at the Douglas County Fair. I’ve got news of a large expansion of a west Lawrence restaurant that specializes in steaks and chops.
I briefly mentioned last week that I had heard the Six Mile Chop House and Tavern was expanding at its Sixth and Wakarusa location. Well, now I’ve got details, and they show the expansion will make it one of the larger restaurants in the city.
Brad Ziegler, an owner of Six Mile, told me that he has struck a deal to take all 6,500 square feet of space that previously was occupied by Famous Dave’s BBQ. Six Mile currently occupies space that is adjacent to the former Famous Dave’s location.
Ziegler said a big part of the expansion plan is for Six Mile to get into the banquet business. That means wedding receptions, corporate events, big birthday parties, and bon voyage parties for a certain pair of pigs. (Well, maybe that last one is a tiny niche.)
“We want more room for private events and banquets,” Ziegler said. “We turn down a lot of events because we just don’t have the size.”
That won’t be a problem following the expansion. Six Mile and Famous Dave’s occupied space that originally served as the Lawrence location for the Hereford House. It was frequently said that the Lawrence Hereford House was the largest restaurant in the state of Kansas, just in terms of square footage.
Ziegler said the expansion will allow for a significant increase in general seating for diners as well.
“We don’t know the final number yet, but we’ll definitely double our capacity for dining,” Ziegler said.
Plans also call for an additional bar and lounge area to be added to the restaurant. But Ziegler — who is a longtime bar owner in Lawrence — said he’s not planning on using any of the space to create a large nightclub.
“We’re just talking about a casual place to have a cocktail,” Ziegler said.
What won’t change much is the restaurant’s menu. It will still have a heavy emphasis on steak, with some seafood, pork chops, lamb chops and other meaty entrees. Ziegler said the idea of a local steakhouse has been well-received by Lawrence diners. He said with the larger location he will try to attract a larger customer base by adding a few mid-range cuts of Angus steak in order to offer the option of a lower price point. But plans also call for the restaurant to keep its selection of prime cuts of beef. The restaurant currently offers nine cuts of prime beef ranging from a 17-ounce Bone-In Cowboy Ribeye to the traditional Kansas City Strip. Ziegler said a significant expansion of the restaurant’s wine list also is planned.
Ziegler hopes to have the expansion — which for the moment is focusing just on the main floor space, not the basement of the building — completed in October. But construction work hasn’t yet begun. Ziegler said he’s awaiting the necessary permits from City Hall.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I can guess one group that wasn’t thrilled with this morning’s rain storm: The construction crews that are trying to build the multistory office and apartment building at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
Robert Green, president of Lawrence-based First Construction, told me the project is a little more than three weeks behind schedule due to the amount of rain that the area has experienced this summer.
I also wanted to let you know of one other detail about the project, in part, to clear up some potential confusion. I’ve gotten several calls from people concerned that construction crews were dumping unused concrete in the sewer system at the job site. That hasn’t been happening, but there was a significant mishap involving a city sewer line at the job site.
Both First Construction and city officials confirmed that a subcontractor on the job accidentally damaged a city sewer line as part of the site work for the building. As part of the shoring process, a steel pin inadvertently punctured a sewer line. Part of the shoring process included the injection of grout, and the sewer line became filled with grout.
The only way to fix the problem was to replace a large section of the sewer line, Dave Wagner, the city’s director of utilities told me. Both Wagner and Green assured me that the cost to replace the line was paid by the contractor for the building, not by the city. The work to replace the line took place a few weeks ago, and the sewer system is working fine in the area, I’m told by Wagner.
As for the building project, as we previously have reported, it will add about 115 apartments to the downtown scene. Its ground floor will be the new headquarters for Great American Bank, which previously operated in the city as Lawrence Bank. Green said he is hopeful crews will make up for lost time and have the apartments ready to open by the fall of 2016.
• We may not always know where the next check is coming from to fund it, but Kansas’ educational system is one of the better ones in the country — at least according to one new report.
The study is from WalletHub, a financial website that does a lot of data crunching to create “best of" lists. The new study found Kansas has the 12th best “school system” in America. The report primarily looked at K-12, public schools, and examined metrics such as dropout rates, math and reading scores, SAT scores, student-to-teacher ratios and other such measures.
Kansas ranked just ahead of Iowa and just below Virginia. Kansas appeared to excel in a couple of categories in particular. Kansas had the third best pupil-to-teacher ratio in the country, and was tied for fourth in the “safest schools” category. That metric is based off of data that tracks the number of students in the ninth-12th grades who report being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property.
Other rankings for Kansas included:
— 8th for math test scores;
— 10th for dropout rate;
— 10th for average SAT scores.
— 21st for percentage of high school graduates who complete the ACT;
— 25th for bullying incident rates;
— 25th for reading test scores.
In case you are confused, a ranking of 1 is best and 51 (we count both the District of Columbia and Missouri, for some reason) is worst.
Most of the data that WalletHub used to compile the rankings came from the U.S. Census Bureau, or other reputable organizations such as the rankings of U.S. News and World Report, the College Board, and the National Center for Educational Statistics. You can see the complete report here.
And yes, I know you want to know the top 5 and the bottom 5, so, here you go:
The bottom five:
District of Columbia
As for other neighbors not already mentioned, Nebraska ranked No. 17, Missouri was No. 28, and Oklahoma was No. 33.
K.C.-based Mexican restaurant coming to old Carlos O’Kelly’s spot; food truck battle may be brewing; study finds Lawrence not very average
In March, when I delivered the sad news of the closing of Carlos O’Kelly’s on 23rd Street, we left my lovely wife soaking in a vat of cheese sauce and repeatedly whispering “Vaya con Dios, Suiza con Pollo.” Well, I may soon be able to put the vat to other uses. No, Carlos O’Kelly’s isn’t coming back, but a Kansas City-based Mexican restaurant is moving in.
Permits have been filed at Lawrence City Hall for Mi Ranchito to take over the spot at 707 W. 23rd St. It also looks like remodeling work has begun at the site. I’ve got a call into the company’s corporate offices in Lenexa to get more information, but at the moment, I’ll just have to describe the restaurant based on my vast knowledge of the Spanish language. Obviously it will be a ranch-themed venture combining the influences of World Cup soccer star Mia Hamm and O.J. Simpson judge Lance Ito.
Actually, I’m told that is not correct and that we have changed decades. I’m sure many of you already have been to a Mi Ranchito. According to the company’s website, Mi Ranchito opened its first restaurant in 2004 in Olathe and has grown to six locations including in Lenexa, Overland Park and Gladstone. It looks like the Lawrence location will be its first outside the Kansas City metro.
According to its online menu, it looks like the restaurant will have a large offering of Mexican dishes — combination platters, fajitas, burritos, shrimp tacos, guacamole, and of course, salads served in the only respectable type of salad bowl, a crispy flour tortilla bowl.
When I hear back from the company, I’ll pass along more details about when the restaurants plans to open and other such details.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While were on the subject of restaurants, I’m hearing that some restaurant owners will find their way to Lawrence City Hall next week to debate the proposal related to loosening the regulations for food truck operations. As we previously reported, the city is considering removing the restriction that a food truck can operate for no more three hours at any one location. The new proposal would allow food trucks to operate an unlimited number of hours in properly zoned, private parking lots, as long as they meet some basic site guidelines. Commissioners earlier in the month delayed action on the new regulations, in part because Commissioner Bob Schumm said he thought traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant owners may have some concerns once they became more familiar with the proposal. Schumm told me he has indeed heard from several restaurant owners, so we’ll see what type of debate ensues. The food truck regulations are tentatively scheduled to be heard at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting.
• It would seem that Mexican restaurants and food truck battles would make us a typical All-American city, but a new study says that Lawrence isn’t all that typical when compared to other American metro areas.
The financial website WalletHub.com has put out a new study that tries to examine how each major metro area compares to the national average. In other words, the study looks at the national average of things such as age, race, income, and education, and then tries to determine which metro areas are most and least similar to the averages.
Lawrence lands on the list of cities that aren’t much like America as a whole. Lawrence was ranked No. 351 out of 366 metro areas. In other words, 350 other communities were closer to the “average American community” than we were.
But that may not be all that bad. One of the big reasons that Lawrence doesn’t stack up with an average community is because the education levels of Lawrence residents are much higher than the national average. Using Census data, the study found that the average educational attainment level of Lawrence residents was well above the national average. In fact, only three metro areas — Provo, Utah; Ithaca, N.Y.; and Boulder, Colo. — were found to have average education levels higher than Lawrence’s. That’s no surprise. Local leaders for more than a decade have been touting Lawrence as one of the more highly educated communities in the country. We have lots of people with advanced degrees and we call lots of them “professor.”
The more interesting finding to me is the data that shows just how young Lawrence’s population is. Obviously, college communities are going to be younger than the average American community, but Lawrence is really young even for a college town. Only Provo was younger than Lawrence. I had seen statistics that had suggested that before. (Hey, I’m a journalist in a very smart town, so I obviously spend all my free time looking at statistics.) I’m not sure what to make of that. I think we perhaps would like to not be ranked quite that young in the future. If our average age could rise a little bit, I think that would be an indication that we’re doing a better job of keeping graduates in our community rather than watching their considerable brain power leave directly upon graduation.
The study found Lawrence also has a really low housing tenure compared to the national average, which is just another way of saying people move a lot in Lawrence.
Interestingly, the study found that a very close cousin of ours appears to be Manhattan. Lawrence ranked No. 351 on the list and Manhattan ranked No. 350. Demographically, we’re pretty similar.
Kansas City is the nearby community that is most like the average. It's No. 23 on the list, and scores particularly high in having a racial make-up that is most like the American average. It is No. 4 in that category. Wichita also scores high on the list of being an average American place. (That makes sense. Every average community has the one of the world’s 10 wealthiest men.) Wichita ranked No. 36 on the list. Topeka ranked No. 113.
The community that is most unlike the average American city is McAllen, Texas. I don’t know anything about McAllen, but our good friend Boulder, Colo., was next in line for being most unlike an average American city.
As far as which city is most like the average American place, that would be . . . Nashville, Tenn. As a viewer of the popular primetime soap opera “Nashville,” I find that very reassuring. Surely this means you’ll soon all join me in my fashion choice of wearing cowboy boots everyday, and we all can meet at a cafe with our guitars, write four hit songs in an hour, and then go back to flying around the country on our private jets. Average is going to be great.