Archive for Monday, December 12, 2005

Library designs checked out

New facility part of plot for downtown redevelopment

December 12, 2005


Five developers have said they want to partner with the city when it builds a new public library, and any of their plans would dramatically change downtown Lawrence.

Each developer has proposed a different location. Now city commissioners must decide whether they want to partner with a private developer or simply rebuild the aging library at its current site at Seventh and Vermont streets.

"Our first priority is to build a high-quality public library, but if we can also do something to spur a high-quality redevelopment in downtown, we should look at that," said Mayor Boog Highberger.

Bruce Flanders, director of the public library, and a team of consultants declined to divulge names of the interested developers. But the Journal-World was able to speak with them anyway.

Flanders also said the library board had not received specific proposals, but had asked developers to express any interest they might have and identify the general area for their prospective projects.

In, around downtown

The five locations are:

¢ An area surrounding the former Riverfront Mall. Dan Simons, a member of the building's ownership group, confirmed that he told library leaders he was interested in a project that would put the library in the former mall building. Simons said a fourth floor could be added to the building, which fronts the Kansas River and also is home to the SpringHill Suites by Marriott, among other users.

Members of the Gard family, of Lawrence, look for videos to check out of the Lawrence Public Library for a snow day of movies. From left are Sydney, 8, Elise, 6, their mother, Cathy Gard, and Alex, 3. "They come here all the time," said Cathy Gard. "Especially when they have programs." Next month the Lawrence City Commission will began to gather more details for a new public library.

Members of the Gard family, of Lawrence, look for videos to check out of the Lawrence Public Library for a snow day of movies. From left are Sydney, 8, Elise, 6, their mother, Cathy Gard, and Alex, 3. "They come here all the time," said Cathy Gard. "Especially when they have programs." Next month the Lawrence City Commission will began to gather more details for a new public library.

"It could be the focal point of downtown," Simons said. "It would be very visible as you come across the river. It could be beautiful."

Simons said the project could complement plans to build a hotel/convention center/parking garage on property northeast of Seventh and New Hampshire streets. Simons - president of the electronics division of The World Company, which owns the Journal-World and Sunflower Broadband - said discussions were still underway with the John Q. Hammons hotel company to build a convention center. He said he also was in discussions with another company, but declined to release its name.

Simons said other possible elements of the project included loft-style apartments and a grocery store to serve downtown.

Simons also said he thought the project should provide some fiscal savings for the city because the city already owns the ground beneath the former mall and its surrounding parking lot.

¢ An area surrounding the 800 block of Pennsylvania Street. Bo Harris, with Harris Construction, confirmed he also had expressed interest. Harris has property in and around the 800 block of Pennsylvania Street, just east of downtown.

Harris, developer of the Hobbs Taylor Lofts at Eighth and New Hampshire streets, said he hadn't yet developed specific plans for a project that would include the library. He said he first would need to meet with leaders of the East Lawrence neighborhood to judge their reaction. He said if he found a library project wasn't feasible for the area, he might explore the possibility in another area, which he declined to identify.

Harris said the success of his condominium loft project in downtown had left him looking for other opportunities. He said having a library as part of a project that would include condominiums or apartments nearby made sense to him.

"It is another opportunity to bring a mixed-use vitality to downtown," Harris said.

¢ An area including parts of the 800 and 900 blocks of New Hampshire Street. Lawrence developer Doug Compton confirmed he has had preliminary discussions with property owners in the 800 block of New Hampshire Street. Compton - who through First Management Inc. and other companies owns about a dozen downtown buildings - said a mixed-use project with strong residential components excited him.

"I think every one of our plans would include residential," Compton said. "What could be better than living next door or a couple of floors above a public library?"

Potential partners for redevelopment in the 900 block of New Hampshire also could include Martin Moore of Lawrence-based Advanco Inc. Moore is a partner in the Downtown 2000 project that redeveloped large portions of the 900 block. The project - which encompasses the area adjacent to the Lawrence Arts Center - is still seeking additional tenants to fill vacant ground. Attempts to reach Moore for comment were unsuccessful.

¢ The area near 11th and Massachusetts and New Hampshire streets. Compton also confirmed he was exploring opportunities for a redevelopment in that area, which includes several buildings that previously housed operations of Allen Press. The area has been the subject of redevelopment talk the past several years, after Allen Press moved much of its operations to a new East Lawrence facility.

¢ Areas of the 600 and 700 blocks of Vermont Street. This area includes the library's current site at 707 Vt. But the area also extends further north to include the post office location. Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel has previously said he was exploring redevelopment for the area surrounding - and possibly including - the post office site, though no agreements had been reached. Members of Gene Fritzel Construction also have ownership interests in several other properties near the current library site. Attempts to reach Fritzel for comment were unsuccessful.

Study session upcoming

City commissioners have scheduled a Jan. 4 study session to discuss whether they want to issue an official request for proposals that would result in more specific plans being created by developers.

Commissioners have said their only concern with a potential public-private partnership is the risk the library will become a secondary part of a larger project.

"A partnership could be all right as long as we understand the main focus must be the library and the parking that goes along with it," said City Commissioner Mike Amyx. "I don't want to be involved in building a new library and have all the parking taken up by other users."

Also at the Jan. 4 meeting, commissioners will be shown rough designs for rebuilding the library on its current site. Architects have developed options that would include relocating the Douglas County Senior Center and city Fire Station No. 1. They also have options that would allow both buildings to remain. But challenges presented by those designs include a likely relocation of the library during the new building's construction, and some plans would require digging more than two stories below ground to create a below-ground parking garage.

"A preliminary look at the site tells us it can be done, but it is very tight," said Steve Clark, an architect with GouldEvans, which has been hired to serve as a consultant.

Commissioners also should receive their first estimates for how much it would cost to build a new library at the current site. Jeffrey Scherer, a consultant who specializes in library design, said library leaders were now planning a building that would be 138,000 square feet. The current library has 45,000 square feet. Scherer said he didn't yet have cost estimates for the project.

But City Commissioner Sue Hack said the cost to build any new library project - either on the current site or elsewhere - would be significant and likely would require a public vote.

"It is going to be expensive," Hack said. "This community will need to come to grips with the fact that to have a quality library that we deserve, we're going to have to come up with some money."

Business editor Mark Fagan contributed to this report.


Richard Heckler 12 years, 6 months ago

Why relocate the new library?

  1. It is the most practical approach
  2. Avoids the expense of relocating the senior center and fire department
  3. Placing it at 9th and New Hampshire makes the library an ideal companion to the Arts Center
  4. Avoids the inconvenience created during construction activity
  5. Avoids the cost of rent should library need to move during construction
  6. Current location simply is not large enough no matter which scenario is chosen
  7. Expanding the parking garage at 9th and New Hampshire provides enough parking for both the Art Center and the library. Generally speaking increases use of this parking garage
  8. Would likely not increase cost of construction as retrofitting is expensive
  9. City could expand offices to the former library location
  10. A two or three story building would be a nice fit with existing new structures
  11. Would be very convenient to parents and/or children who need a place to go during class or rehearsal breaks at the art center.
  12. USD 497 could use old library space for a potion of their VO-TECH system like the world of computers.
  13. The old library would be a perfect fit for a bank or a health clinic.

The vacant lots at 9thth and New Hampshire location seem the most practical because they are vacant.

Lowell Holmes 12 years, 6 months ago

I would have to agree with merrill. Using the vacant lots at 9th and New Hampshire would make the most economic and practical sense of all the proposals I have heard to date. But since when did making sense matter to the city commission?

Richard Heckler 12 years, 6 months ago

I could not determine the exact location or what the city owned property would entail. If it involves relocating a community center,fire station and senior center the savings might not exist. I think the library should be a library and not a cafe. The cafe might be a money loser cuz there are quite a number in downtown.

Kookamooka 12 years, 6 months ago

Yeah...I have NO IDEA what that acronym means! I just hope that whatever they decide they don't forget to make the children's area wonderful. I like the idea of a separate library just for kids in the old Carnegie Library Building. Lawrence doesn't really focus on kids so much,mostly college students, and I doubt that the adults who use the new library are going to want a bunch of rugrats making a bunch of unwanted noise. Come on, be honest. How many adults really like sharing the library with kids?

HighScore 12 years, 6 months ago

Why downtown and not out west? Doesn't Lawrence deserve more than one library?

Recently there have been a number of articles tracing the activity of development out west. It woud be nice to see a new library included in a part of these plans. I do not want to take anything away from the families living near downtown, but there are more families living out west. These families look at going to a library downtown as a chore, trying to find a parking spot, hustling the kids past the homeless groups that sleep near the library's entrance. It is much easier to plant themselves in front of a computer instead. It would nice to see a new library developed ajoinging one of the new park proposals out west to accomodate these families.

A focus on renovating the existing library or building a new one downtown would make more sense after a new library is developed in western Lawrence.

Kathleen Christian 12 years, 6 months ago

I agree with Merrill too - sounds practical. However, we do not need another Bank in this town. Use of a clinic at the current Library spot is a good idea, especially convenient for the Senior Citizens next door. I think the Fire station should stay too. I can't imagine the Library being at the Riverfront mall. A lot of homeless people go there to use it and I can just see the people using the Suites complaining about that. Not practical at all.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 6 months ago

As far as a library out west is concerned one idea that has been mentioned is opening up the Free State High School library to the public. Should the city take over staffing of the High School Library?

Jamesaust 12 years, 6 months ago

While in general questioning the need for the library to be located downtown, I think it is important that if the library is relocated that the existing land be sold. The land is ideally located for development and should bring top dollar, which (God forbid) could significantly minimize for the public the cost of construction for a new library.

Godot 12 years, 6 months ago

After reading yesterday about the plans for growth, the need to expand the major traffic arteries and the need for sewer upgrades, my question is this: where will all the money come from? And what should come first? I think the infrastructure should come first, the library second. Why have a destination downtown if "you can't get there from here."

If developers want to do this, why not let them do it on a for-profit basis rather than "develop" at tax payers expense?

Godot 12 years, 6 months ago

", I think it is important that if the library is relocated that the existing land be sold. The land is ideally located for development and should bring top dollar, which (God forbid) could significantly minimize for the public the cost of construction for a new library."

I agree with you, however, it appears to me the both the city and county commissions are bent on acquiring, and holding, as much land as possible. doesn't make sense to me, considering how desperately the governmental entities need property tax revenue.

breeze 12 years, 6 months ago

Hi Kookamooka,

Don't worry about the children's area being neglected. BF believes strongly in an attractive, well-planned area for the children's department.

badger 12 years, 6 months ago

Hey, Marion?

Is 'follow the money' your default answer to whatever the City of Lawrence decides to do, wherever it decides to do it?

Cause, well, the relevation that politics are often influenced by those who stand to gain financially by them? That's kind of, well, already known by most people.

Kookamooka 12 years, 6 months ago

What an interesting concept for the city to join with the school district to provide community services to people out west. This is, essentially, what happened with the indoor aquatic center. Why not the library at Free State? I like it.

Kids at the high schools should have really top notch librarians helping them access information in all of it's forms. Navigating stacks is an important skill to have in college but getting what you need from all of the electronic sources is going to continue to be crucial to the learning of the future.

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