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Archive for Thursday, January 7, 1999

FIRM TAKES WRAP OFF DOWNTOWN BUILDING PLANS

January 7, 1999

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Retail shops, professional offices, rooftop terraces and a clock tower are proposed to replace a former Mercantile Bank drive-through at the north end of Massachusetts Street.

More national retailers and professional office users could find homes in a new $6 million building planned for the north end of downtown.

Gene Fritzel Construction Co. unveiled plans this week for a three-story retail and office structure in the 600 block of Massachusetts Street, on the site of a former Mercantile Bank drive-through branch.

"We think it's a great-looking building," Tim Fritzel, president of the company, said of his plans for a tile-roofed brick structure with large, awning-covered storefronts and a clock tower.

The building's first level would offer space for traditional downtown retail, such as clothing or specialty stores. The upper two levels would provide 30,000 square feet of office space -- including the company's new headquarters -- and several rooftop terraces, Fritzel said.

"It's a chance to do something that ties in with the historic nature of downtown," said Bob Schulte, a Fritzel vice president and former Lawrence mayor. "It'll have all the modern conveniences but have the appearance of a building that fits in."

The company hasn't decided what would become of its current office at 628 Vt., but the former drive-through bank branch, which closed Dec. 12, would be razed.

While the project was announced late last year, details were sketchy. At the time, Fritzel said more national retailers sought space in the block because of the success of the Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch. Both have stores in a renovated bank building just south of the project site.

Fritzel this week declined to identify potential tenants for the new building but said announcements could be made within two months.

One possibility is a second Gap store.

Fritzel confirmed he earlier explored the possibility of expanding the Gap's current store, which is about 5,200 square feet. Expansion proved to be not feasible.

"They were interested in more than doubling what they have now," he said.

He said the casual clothing retailer would stay in its current location, but hinted that a second store could be a possibility.

"You've seen other locations where there are two or three different Gap locations in the same mall," he said.

Plans for the new building, which will be nestled between Abercrombie & Fitch on the south and M & M Office supply to the north, call for three separate retail shops on the street level ranging from about 2,600 square feet to 7,000 square feet.

Each would be set apart by a variety of materials and design elements, mixing brick, cut stone and staggered roof lines to give the entire 50,000-square-foot building the look of three distinct storefronts.

The differentiation is important, given the project's location in a downtown characterized by small shops along wide, tree-lined sidewalks.

Dennis Enslinger, the city's historic resources administrator, said the plans generally complied with the city's adopted downtown design guidelines.

Fritzel's plans are scheduled for review Jan. 21 by the city's Historic Resources Commission because the site is midway between two landmark structures: the Eldridge Hotel, 701 Mass., and a former photography studio now home to Quinton's Bar & Deli, 615 Mass.

Architects are confident they have a workable project.

"It's going to look like a new building befitting the character of downtown," said Howard Nearing, president of Nearing Staats Prelogar & Jones of Shawnee Mission, the project's architect. "We're attempting to make our building compatible with what you would normally see in downtown Lawrence -- not a copy of, but compatible with."

Fritzel said the goal was to have the retail shops open by late this year, but that it more likely would be early 2000 before any tenants could move in. Completion of the office space would follow.

The property is owned by GCB Holdings, a partnership of Gene and Charlene Fritzel and their family. Tim Fritzel also is president of that partnership.

-- Richard Brack's phone message number is 832-7194. His e-mail address is rbrack@ljworld.com. Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is mfagan@ljworld.com.

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