Two local men who want to renovate the historic Consolidated Barbed Wire Co. building east of city hall into a sculpture garden surrounded by artisan shops and entertainment areas said today they hope to begin raising funds for the project soon.
Mike Elwell and Ron Miller, who have worked for about 18 months on plans to renovate the building, are scheduled to go before the Lawrence City Commission tonight. Elwell and Miller will be trying to get legal documents in place so they can start raising about $600,000 for the project.
The pair will ask the city to assign to them the 99-year lease the owners of the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza now have on the building, which sits on city-owned property. The Chelsea Group, an East Coast development firm, owns the adjoining factory outlet mall.
ELWELL, a former Douglas County associate district judge who now runs a sculpture foundry in rural Lawrence, said he and Miller have signed an agreement with Chelsea on taking over the lease.
"Part of that agreement requires that the city release Chelsea from its responsibility to the property. . . . We would take over the same responsibility Chelsea had under the lease," Elwell said.
The documents then would be placed in escrow while Elwell and Miller secure financing for the project and begin renovation work. The escrow would protect the city and Chelsea if funds were not raised, Elwell said.
"If we get the money and bring the building up to code, that will trigger the documents being released (from escrow)," he said. "This protects the city if we don't raise the money. . . . Nobody's lost anything or gained anything."
ELWELL said he and Miller plan for the building to contain offices as well as artisan shops for glassblowing, ceramics, weaving or sculpture work in progress.
An indoor sculpture garden in the center of the lower floor would feature a number of bronze works from Elwell's collections. There also would be a stage area, where jazz and blues music would be featured in a restaurant-bar setting, Elwell said.
Plans also call for integrating historical displays of the Kansas River into the interior design, he said.
Elwell said the fund raising would begin after the city signs documents. He said he already has some funding commitments.
"We've got some individuals who have strong interest in what we're going to do," Elwell said.
If the fund-raising effort is successful, it will take three to four months to begin restoration of the building to bring it up to current building codes, he said. Once a building permit is issued, it probably will take 12 to 18 months to complete the project, he said.