The Lively Mid-Western College City of Lawrence, Kansas Draws Retirees Seeking Culture, Intellectual Stimulation, Athletic Events and Affordable Living
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
When considering retirement destinations, the mid-western city of Lawrence, Kansas (population 98,000) is a pleasant surprise. Located on the eastern edge of the state, it is situated roughly half way between Topeka, the state capital, and Kansas City, Missouri (metro population of 2 million). It is a growing, energetic place, home to the University of Kansas (student population 30,000) and offers retirees a stimulating ambiance, a rich cultural scene, a good hospital, an educated population and sporting events.
The cost-of-living 20% below the national average. Once a center of Civil War anti-slavery sentiment, Lawrence today is a liberal spot in an otherwise conservative state. It is a youthful place, but more retirees are discovering it every day. Of the population, 27% is age 45 or better. The crime rate meets the national average.
Contributing to Lawrence's lower than average cost of living is the city's affordable real estate, which comes in all shapes and sizes. The median home price is $290,000, and this will purchase an established home with roughly 1,600 sq. ft., two to three bedrooms and a lot with mature landscaping. Rentals are plentiful, but many are taken by students. There are seven mobile home parks, one of which, Park Hill, is for people age 55 or better. One of the town's most delightful neighborhoods is Old West Lawrence, a wealthy section once destroyed by pro-slavery raiders but later rebuilt and named by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of its Dozen Distinctive Destinations.
When it comes to taxes and retirement, Kansas is considered only somewhat friendly. Social Security benefits are excluded from state taxation for residents with $75,000 or less in annual income. Military, civil-service and in-state public pensions are exempt from state income taxes, but out-of-state pensions are fully taxed. Real estate is assessed at 100% of fair market value. The annual property taxes on a $290,000 home are approximately $3,973.
The beautiful University of Kansas (KU) sits on a hill named Mt. Oread. Two rivers, the Kansas River and the Wakarusa River, flow through town giving it the nickname of "River City." There are 52 public parks, and 7000-acre Clinton Lake, just west of town, has been ranked as one of the top 50 lakes for boaters. The area also has hiking and mountain biking trails, camper hookups, primitive camping areas, picnic areas, fishing platforms, playing fields and a swimming beach.
For golfers, the city has several courses, and Alvamar Golf Course has consistently been listed as one of the top 75 public courses by Golf Digest And, of course, KU is the home of the Jayhawks, a powerhouse in men's basketball. There are plenty of sports bars in which to watch the games, and the entire city comes to standstill when the Jayhawks are playing. In addition, the Kansas City Chiefs (football) and Kansas City Royals (baseball) play just down the road.
Lawrence retirees are able to partake in a smorgasbord of cultural, sporting and educational activities. KU has an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), a program committed to creating accessible and innovative lifelong learning opportunities for people age 50 and better. The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, a KU think tank that studies public policy and politics, hosts speakers and conferences. KU's Lied Center mounts live dance and theater performances. The Spencer Museum of Art offers rotating exhibits, and the Lawrence Community Theater showcases local talent. According to The National Endowment for the Arts, Lawrence has a large percentage of professional artists in its work force. In other words, it has a lively arts and music scene. Liberty Hall, a restored 19th Century opera house, features live entertainment and artsy cinema.
The city sponsors summer concerts, and many a future rock star has made his or her debut in one of Lawrence's downtown pubs. The nationally known annual KU Jazz Festival brings world-class jazz musicians to town. The yearly Lawrence ArtWalk features 90 local artists and self-guided tours of galleries and studios not normally open to the public. Lawrence is also home to Haskell Indian Nations University, which is a Native American college, and its presence adds more culture and diversity to the city.
The downtown has 100 or more locally owned shops, live music venues, restaurants, cafes, boutiques, bookstores and an outdoor sculpture exhibit that changes each year. The city also has Targets, HyVees and other larger retail outlets, including Wal-Mart (Iowa Street is the place to find the big retailers). Grocery stores are in abundance, and one, Community Mercantile, features organic foods. A shopping district at 6th and Wakarusa has everything from grocery stores to day spas.
With lots of flat terrain, Lawrence is a great spot for bicycling, but for those who do not want to bicycle to their destinations, Lawrence Transit has eight fixed bus routes. The regular fare is $1.00, and people age 60 or better ride for $.50. A paratransit service is also available ($2.00).
The Lawrence Senior Center is located downtown and provides various workshops, classes, lectures, trips, tax assistance, legal help, caregiver support and more. It serves people age 60 and above.
Founded in 1921, the Lawrence Memorial Hospital is a 173-bed not-for-profit facility and is the center of Lawrence's medical care. It has an expanded cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation center, an expanded oncology department and a new heart center. In March 2009, LMH completed a three-year $45 million expansion which included new facilities for emergency care and surgery and additional space for intensive care and critical care. A new 18-bed wing was added which allowed the hospital to convert its semi-private patient rooms to private rooms. It is accredited by the Joint Commission and is award-winning for excellence in overall patient experience. For military retirees, Lawrence has a VA hospital.
Lawrence residents enjoys four distinct weather seasons. Summers temperatures are in the 80s and 90s with high humidity. Winters are cold with temperatures in the teens, 20s and 30s. On average, the area receives 15 inches of rain and nearly 40 inches of snow each year. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Lawrence ranks below the national average.
Retirement in Lawrence has some downsides. The tornado risk is 210% higher than the national average, and a twister struck southwest Lawrence in 2003. The air quality is well below the national average. The University of Kansas is a party school, and some sections of the city can get a little rowdy on weekends (things are quieter in the summer). Streets clog with traffic on football weekends.
Overall, though, Lawrence has a lot to offer and should be considered by anyone searching for a stimulating, mid-western college town at retirement time.
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