Topeka — A fixture of Lawrence's riverfront officially entered the history books today when the "Consolidated Barbed Wire Company Building" was placed on the Kansas Register of Historic Places.
The state's historical sites review board approved the designation by unanimous vote, although the action got no show of support from the building's lease-holder, The Chelsea Group, developers of the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza, a factory outlet shopping complex now under construction on the riverfront.
The action prevents the city-owned building from demolition or being significantly altered without state review.
The building, constructed in 1892, was nominated for the state's historical register by the Lawrence Preservation Alliance, whose members were concerned that the building could be demolished by Chelsea.
"It's tempting to say, now, that the building is saved. Well, the building is not saved until we find an ecomomic use for it, and I think that's where we need to concentrate our efforts," said LPA boardmember Richard Kershenbaum, after the board's vote.
ONE POSSIBLE use for the building has been proposed by two local artists, Mike Elwell and Ron Miller. They have proposed repairing and renovating the exterior of the building and converting the interior into a sculpture garden surrounded by artisan shops and entertainment areas.
Though nomination to the state register was in place before their proposal took shape, Elwell said, "That's exactly what we would have done. . . You can't get into rehab until you've got the guidelines."
Elwell said Saturday that he was still exchanging proposals with Chelsea and that no firms plans were yet in place.
AT THE HEARING, David Longhurst, spokesman for the Chelsea Group, told the board that Chelsea did not have current redevelopment plans for the building, nor was the building included in Chelsea's original development plan of the Riverfront Plaza retail center.
"Right now, the objective of the Chelsea Group is to get the new (Riverfront Plaza) building built, leased, opened and operated, and then at that point they'll be able to turn their attention to other areas on the site, more specifically, this particular (barbed wire) building."
Longhurst said Chelsea would eventually like to develop the barbed wire building in some way.
"There are some advantages to be had in understanding and capitalizing on the history of the building, and that should be part of the redevelopment and the use of the building," Longhurst said.
However, when asked by a board member why the Chelsea Group objected to listing the building in the state's historical register, Longhurst said, "The Chelsea Group simply does not want to address that issue at this time."
Longhurst refused to comment after the board's vote.
LPA'S Kershenbaum told the board that the building "is one of the last remaining examples of our 19th-century industrial heritage in Lawrence."
"As for the property owners' concerns, I guess the only thing I can say is that this really is the time to list this building and recognize the significance, before we have a specialty use for it," Kershenbaum said.
Contacted later in the day, he added that he's pleased there is a proposal for the building.
"LPA would certainly like to help in any way to help utilize the building," he said.
NOW THAT the building is on the state register, "if somebody wants a demolition permit for that building, or a building permit for rehabilitation, that would trigger the reveiw process," said Dick Pankratz, director of the Kansas Department of Historical Preservation.
"We would review the work for its acceptability against the recognized standards, so that the work would not adversely affect the historic building," Pankratz said.
Pankratz said that under state law, the City of Lawrence now must notify the state's historical sites review board of any demolition or construction permits filed on the barbed wire building.
"Our role is to provide comments, and if our comments are that there's no problem, they sail ahead. If our comments are that it's an adverse affect, then it becomes a matter for the city governing body to consider. We recommend, they (city commissioners) will have the final determination," he said.
CHELSEA, IN its lease agreement with the city, is bound to "repair, restore, or rebuild the building, should it be damaged or destroyed."
According to Martha Hagedorn-Krass, architectural historian for the Kansas Historical Society, the "Consolidated Barbed Wire Company Drawing Building" was used by Consolidated Barbed Wire, "a well-known company established in 1890s."
After constructing the building in 1892, the company went out of business in 1899. Beginning in 1907, the Lawrence Paper Co. used the building for about 60 years, she said.
The LPA took steps in April 1989 to have the building listed in the state's historical register.
At that time, Longhurst said Chelsea wanted to wait for a tenant before renovating the building.