Commercial real estate activity on Wakarusa Drive has some thinking Lawrence's commercial real estate slump may be coming to an end.
About 22,000 square feet of office space will be added in two projects near 15th Street and Wakarusa Drive Â one of which already is being built. And both could spur more development nearby.
Work has begun on a 13,000-square-foot office building northeast of the corner, and plans have been filed for a 9,000-square-foot office building northwest of the intersection.
Lawrence resident Paul Pendry, Lawrence builder Jeff Hoffman and Wichita investor Pat O'Rourke have begun work on a 13,000-square-foot office building at 1420 Wakarusa Drive.
Pendry said his business, Commerce Title, would occupy about 5,000 square feet and lease the remainder. He and his partners decided to move ahead with the project despite real estate agents warning him the market for office space in Lawrence continues to be soft.
"We just felt the timing was right with the interest rates being as low as they are," Pendry said. "Now's really the time to build. We hear that the office market is saturated right now, but we're confident in the market turning around. If we weren't confident we wouldn't be doing what we're doing."
The project is expected to be completed in May.
Construction is expected to begin in December on another Wakarusa Drive project. Officials with BG Consultants Inc. plan to build a 9,000-square-foot building in Oread West Office Park to house their growing civil engineering firm.
BG Consultants hopes to have its building, which will be immediately north of the UMB Bank building, completed by October 2003, said Cecil Kingsley, a vice president for the Manhattan-based firm.
Kingsley said the building, which will replace the company's 4,000-square-foot office at 536 Fireside Court, would allow the firm to immediately add two employees, and will allow for long-term growth. He said the company's Lawrence office could grow from its current 20 employees to about 50 in the next 10 years.
Kingsley said the firm, which has offices in Manhattan, Hutchinson and Emporia, is betting growth in Lawrence will continue its strong pace.
"By far the biggest growth in our firm is in the Lawrence area," Kingsley said.
The company works with cities, counties and private businesses to develop roads, sewers, water and stormwater systems.
Doug Brown, a commercial real estate agent with Coldwell Banker McGrew Real Estate, said the construction activity along Wakarusa Drive is the latest sign of resurgence in the commercial real estate market.
"It seems like for the past year we've been looking for a light at the end of the tunnel and haven't seen one," said Brown, who brokered the deal for the BG Consultants site. "Now it looks like we can see one."
Brown said the BG Consultants building would spur more development in Oread West because it would provide other vacant lots with roads, parking and utilities.
Greg DiVilbiss, a partner in the Bristol Groupe, said interest also was increasing in his company's 55,000-square-foot Wakarusa Corporate Centre near 18th Street and Wakarusa Drive.
The project still is seeking its first tenant after being on the market for about a year and a half, but DiVilbiss said he expected to make announcement about a lease "very soon."
"I think people were in a bit of a standstill after everything that happened this year, but it has definitely turned around," DiVilbiss said. "There are a lot more calls and a lot more people looking."