Plans to renovate a turn-of-the-century barbed wire factory into a downtown sculpture garden are behind schedule, but the public's still coming out ahead, city officials said.
Mike Elwell's continuing renovations to the vacant Consolidated Barbed Wire Co. building may continue through the end of the year as part of an agreement approved by Lawrence city commissioners last week.
Elwell and his partner, Ron Miller, now have until June 1 to complete structural and exterior repairs and until Dec. 31 to occupy the city-owned building.
By then, commissioners hope, Elwell's sculpture garden, jazz club, professional offices and arts-and-crafts pods will be up and running along the Kansas River.
"The only negative is that it's not open yet," said Commissioner Bob Schulte, who approved the original lease agreement in 1991. "It's going to be an interesting place once it's open."
The building, between city hall and the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza Factory Outlets, operated as a Consolidated Barbed Wire Co. factory from 1883 to 1909 before giving way to the Lawrence Paper Co., which used it until 1960.
Commissioners agreed to lease the building to Elwell and Miller in October 1991 and have extended the agreement twice. The floods in 1993 didn't help, nor did repairs to the neighboring Bowersock Mills & Power Co., which shut down roof work for several weeks because of inconsistent power feeds.
"I realize you have been patient and have to look at the eyesore, but it is starting to look better now, and in the next few months, it should look a lot better," Elwell said in a recent letter to city officials.
Elwell and Miller do not pay the city rent. Instead, they have agreed to rehabilitate the vacant building, which the city would retain -- free of charge -- if the project ever fell through.
City Manager Mike Wildgen said, "The city hasn't put a dime into it."