The former Consolidated Barbed Wire Co. plant is a vacant shell these days, but Mike Elwell and Ron Miller, who have renovation plans for the historic riverfront building, think that's progress.
They recount six weeks of jackhammering to remove machine mounts from the concrete floor and the back-breaking labor that went into hauling away trash that had accumulated inside the building over time.
"About 10 tons, conservatively, is what was taken out," Miller says, his knees buckling under the weight of the memory.
"This whole thing had been a giant dump, it appeared, for some time," Elwell said, rattling off an inventory of what they'd hauled away: Rock Chalk Revue props from the 1960s, cardboard tubes left over from the days when the building housed the Lawrence Paper Co., river refuse collected by the Bowersock Mills & Power Co. next door, abandoned drinking fountains, old insulators and wire.
BUT NOW that the cleanup is through, Elwell and Miller are in a holding pattern, awaiting the go-ahead for their plans to transform the building, which they date to 1883, into a local gathering place that would include a sculpture garden, artisan shops, a venue for live jazz and blues and retail and office space.
Last spring, Elwell and Miller received conditional approval for the project from the city, which owns the land on which the building sits. The partners also have signed agreements with Chelsea Group, which developed the Riverfront Plaza factory outlet center next door, to take over Chelsea's lease on the building. The building last year was listed on the state Register of Historic Places.
However, before actual renovation can begin, Elwell and Miller are required to raise $560,000 from investors. The money would be placed in escrow to guarantee that the project will be adequately funded.
Elwell, a bronze sculptor and former judge, said the venture is set up as a limited partnership and that securities laws prohibit him from saying too much about the effort to raise money for the project.
"All I can say is our fund raising is under way, we're selling units in a limited partnership and we hope to have it completed by Nov. 1, which is our deadline," he said.
DESPITE THE fact that he and Miller still have little to show for their efforts after two years of planning and cleanup work, Elwell says his enthusiasm for the project hasn't waned.
"It's a fantastic building and I think it's really an opportunity now for the public to come down and enjoy the history and the heritage of the riverfront," he said.
The Consolidated Barbed Wire Co. operated its plant, once the largest employer in Kansas, at the site until 1909. Until 1960, the Lawrence Paper Co. used the building for its production operation.
Elwell and Miller envision a sculpture garden as the centerpiece of the 14,000-square-foot ground floor, where about two dozen life-size and larger-than-life sculptures would be displayed.
The ground floor also would feature a live music stage and shops in which local artisans would demonstrate such skills as weaving and glassblowing.
TABLES NEAR windows, facing the river, along the north wall of the building would create a Paris cafe atmosphere, Elwell said, offering people a place to drink coffee or other beverages and watch bald eagles nesting in the trees just outside.
The building's mezzanine level, which extends from the north side of the building 21 feet above the ground floor, would provide entry through a walkway connected to the city parking garage and a view of the sculpture garden below.
Office space may be built on that level, and Elwell noted that there's room to add a second partial level below, providing additional office space. Each of those upper levels would add 5,000 square feet to the building's interior dimensions.