Archive for Wednesday, November 3, 1999

ELWELL GIVEN 30 DAYS TO NEGOTIATE LEASE

November 3, 1999

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City commissioners want a written contract and refuse to waive ADA requirements for a planned New Year's Eve Party.

Lawrence city commissioners have given Mike Elwell 30 days to negotiate a new lease for the historic Consolidated Barbed Wire building downtown.

They also said he must comply with all city building codes, including standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, before he can get an occupancy permit to conduct a New Year's Eve party in the city-owned building.

That means Elwell and city staff will have one month to come to terms on issues ranging from how much rent the city should charge and how much liability insurance Elwell should carry, to the kinds of businesses he can operate out of the building.

"The concern I have is that, from the information I have, a January 1st party of 600 to 700 people is planned," Mayor Erv Hodges said. "The safety of those people in a building that we own is of great concern."

Those decisions came at Tuesday night's city commission meeting after Elwell, a former district judge, said he could not accept the terms of a draft lease that had been prepared by the city's attorney Jerry Cooley.

That agreement would charge Elwell $4,800 a year in rent and could be extended for up to 50 years. Among other conditions, it would require him to finish the renovation -- including an overhead walkway into the building from the city's parking lot -- by June 1, 2000, and to keep at least $500,000 worth of liability insurance protecting the city as the landlord and owner of the building.

Elwell came into Tuesday's meeting, asking that he be allowed to finish the project under terms of a lease he signed in 1991.

The original lease, he said, called for only a dollar a year in rent and lasted for up to 100 years. In exchange, Elwell was to renovate the city-owned building at his own expense and turn the dilapidated old building into productive commercial property.

"The building was in really sad shape," Elwell said. "It was considered to be a white elephant."

After more than 10 years of work and about $1.5 million of his own investment, Elwell said, the project is within a couple months of being done, with the exception of installing lifts and elevators to give people with disabilities full access to all levels of the building.

Elwell said changing the terms of the agreement at this late date was unfair.

But Cooley said a number of other factors have changed in the last 10 years.

Cooley noted that Elwell and his partner at the time, Ron Miller, signed the first lease in 1991 and were supposed to finish the project in two years. The last extension expired in 1995, he said, and Elwell -- who has since taken over the project by himself -- has been operating since that time without an agreement with the city.

Meanwhile, Cooley said, Elwell has applied for a state liquor license, something city commissioners in 1991 may not have anticipated.

The draft lease he presented Tuesday night would impose the same food sales requirements that apply to other drinking establishments downtown, and it would prohibit any gambling or adult entertainment activities -- conditions Elwell said he could accept.

City commissioners, however, said they were not interested in negotiating the lease in a business meeting. They said that was something Elwell needed to work out with city staff.

Hodges said if the two sides could not reach an agreement within 30 days, city commissioners may have to impose their own conditions on the lease.

-- Peter Hancock's phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is phancock@ljworld.com.

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