An update on a pair of large vacant properties downtown; a look at Kansas’ ranking in ‘tax burden’ report

photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo

The former Borders building located at the southeast corner of Seventh and New Hampshire streets is pictured Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018.

News and notes from around town:

• A development group looking to build a downtown grocery store has won a key lawsuit, but it has lost the grocery store project anyway.

The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday announced it has ruled in favor of Treanor Investments, a local development group that has wanted to build a grocery store and apartment project on the old Borders bookstore property at Seventh and New Hampshire streets.

Treanor was sued by a condo owner in the nearby Hobbs Taylor Lofts condominium building. Brian Russell had argued that restrictive covenants prohibited a grocery store from being built on the property.

Ultimately, the Kansas Supreme Court disagreed, upholding similar rulings from Douglas County District Court and the Kansas Court of Appeals.

It is a victory for the developers, but not one that will produce much uncorking of champagne. Bill Fleming, an attorney for the developers, confirmed what has been widely known: The grocery store project is no longer active. A deal with a Kansas City-area Price Chopper chain had basically disintegrated before the pandemic, and certainly the economic downturn has done nothing to revive it.

But the legal ruling is important nonetheless because it removes a hurdle if a similar development project emerges for the property in the future.

“The grocery store probably isn’t going to go forward at this point,” Fleming said. “We never felt like the grocery store was going to hurt the neighborhood, though. It was a positive and would make the condo development a better project. From that standpoint, we never fully understood the lawsuit.”

If you are curious about the details of the lawsuit, that’s probably a sign you really are suffering from pandemic boredom. But, in general, the ruling found that there was indeed a covenant at one time that restricted grocery store development on the site, unless it was approved by the owners of the Hobbs Taylor Lofts. But the Supreme Court ruled that developers of the property over the years went through the proper steps to designate a single ownership group, not each condo owner, as the representative authorized to grant approval of a grocery project as it related to the covenant issues. In this case, that development group — Lawrence-based 8th and New Hampshire LLC, which is led by Lawrence businessman Stephen Craig — did not object to the grocery store project.

photo by: Nick Krug

The former Lawrence Journal-World press facility, located at the northeast end of Massachusetts Street, is pictured in spring 2016.

• On the other side of New Hampshire Street, the story is much the same, minus the lawsuit drama. A grocery store project once proposed for the former Journal-World printing site near Sixth and New Hampshire streets has fallen apart.

Back in August, I reported that the former printing plant location — which stretches from New Hampshire Street to Massachusetts Street and is at the northern entrance to downtown — was under contract to be purchased. Plans were for part of the existing building to be used as a grocery store, part a food hall concept and part for office space. I had heard separately that an out-of-town financial services company looking to move to the area was the proposed tenant for the office space.

But Dan Simons, a member of the family that owns the old printing plant site, told me Friday that the property is no longer under contract. He said the state of the economy certainly played a role in the deal not coming to fruition.

He said another party has begun to look at the property, but no deals have yet been signed. He didn’t provide any details on what type of development that group may be considering.

The last development proposal for the site was unique in that it was planning to keep the existing building on the site. Most talk of redeveloping the site — one of the largest available in downtown — has focused on razing the building and constructing a multistory structure to house a conference center, hotel, apartments or other such uses.

Simons said he expected the property again would attract developers who are interested in razing the property to get the most efficiency out of the site. As for the type of development the Simons family is interested in seeing on the property, he said they were looking for a project that could really be a benefit to all of downtown.

“Some people are saying downtown is in transition,” Simons said. “I don’t know if that is the correct word, but we definitely need additional retail and additional amenities to support retail. We are looking for a great tenant or combination of tenants that would complement downtown and somebody who has some vision.”

• While it’s not directly related to downtown, I’m going to mention this item anyway because it is about taxes. And downtown is a great place to discuss taxes. Just grab a sleeping bag and ask any downtown business owner what she/he thinks about property taxes.

The financial services firm WalletHub has produced its annual report on what states have the highest and lowest overall tax burdens in advance of the July 15 income tax filing deadline.

The news isn’t particularly big for Kansas in either direction. The state ranks near the middle of the pack, which is probably where you want to be if you are a government leader responsible for tax policy.

Kansas ranked as the 20th most burdensome state when it comes to taxes. The study looked at three type of taxes for its analysis: property taxes, income taxes and sales and excise taxes. Sales and excise taxes is where Kansas was deemed to be the most burdensome, coming in 15th highest. Kansas is one of the few states that charge a full sales tax on groceries. Property taxes were next highest for Kansas, at No. 18. When it comes to income taxes, Kansas ranked 36th most burdensome.

The report calculates the percentage of income that the average Kansan pays in taxes in a year. Kansas’ rate checked in at 8.83%. The highest rate was in New York at 12.28%. The lowest was Alaska at 5.16%.

Here’s a look at some area states, their ranks and their percentage of income devoted to taxes:

• No. 10: Iowa, 9.53%

• No. 16: Nebraska, 9.10%

• No. 19: Arkansas, 8.98%

• No. 20: Kansas, 8.83%

• No. 26: Colorado, 8.40%

• No. 39: Missouri, 7.90%

• No. 44: Oklahoma, 6.94%


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