Industrial buildings in east Lawrence renovated

Industrial buildings that fell vacant during the last few years are getting new life in eastern Lawrence.

The projects – to reinvigorate former production centers for Davol and E and E Display Group – are simply the biggest examples of investors who believe in the Lawrence market and are willing to reinvest in its future, east of Iowa Street.

Smitty Belcher, part of an investment group that last year bought the former Davol plant at 700 E. 22nd St., had been looking for room to expand his Huxtable & Associates contracting operation.

Now he has plenty of space for his 140 employees, and more.

“It makes a lot of sense for us, and it makes a lot of sense for the community,” Belcher said after closing the deal.

It’s a story that’s being repeated in eastern Lawrence, from downtown’s fringe through aging industrial areas to the expansive opportunities along Kansas Highway 10 at the edge of town.

Bo Harris, chairman and chief executive officer of Harris Construction Co. Inc., invested more than $12 million at the heart of the city: By year’s end, residents and businesses started moving into condos and commercial space at his Hobbs Taylor Lofts, northeast of Eighth and New Hampshire streets. Capital City Bank is open at street level, and second-floor office space is reserved for Dan Sabatini Architects, the Lawrence offices of Lindquist & Craig Hotels & Resorts Inc. and the corporate operations of Harris’ own firm.

Nearby, Harris remodeled a former chicken-processing building at 830-832 Pa. into offices for Fairchild & Buck, a law firm that relocated from Topeka last year. The project is the first in Harris’ plans for converting nine buildings along Pennsylvania Street and just to the east, between Eighth and Ninth streets, into office, retail and residential uses that one day could accommodate more than 300 employees.

Elsewhere south and east of downtown, builders are putting up new homes on available lots in established residential areas.

Commercial drive

Along 23rd Street, which also serves as Kansas Highway 10 east of Iowa Street, the commercial area east of Haskell Indian Nations University continues to pick up momentum. G-Force Athletics, a hub for cheerleading and tumbling classes, moved into the space once occupied by Star Signs & Graphics, which itself moved into bigger space at 801 E. Ninth St.

QuikTrip, the pervasive gasoline and convenience store operator, took over and rebuilt the former Ampride station at the northeast corner of 23rd Street and Haskell Avenue. Farther to the east, near Don’s Steak House, a commercial center developed by Cornerstone Construction welcomed a handful of small retailers: Kindred Care, Half-Baked Tan and Front Row Audio/Video.

Looming nearby are two major industrial operations that have yet to regenerate:

¢ A former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant remains shut down, its remaining manufacturing equipment now fodder for future recycling or hazardous disposal as Lawrence and Douglas County commissioners work behind the scenes on a possible purchase of the property for redevelopment as a new business park.

¢ Serologicals Corp.’s new $28 million manufacturing plant, which managed to produce a few test batches of cell-growth products – but nowhere near the $60 million worth of annual production projected as recently as a year ago – before company officials announced in January that the place would not reach full production, and instead would be shut down and sold.

Turnaround time

While government representatives and business leaders lament the loss of both operations, they understand that such transitionary times can lead to other opportunities.

The E and E Display Group building – at one time a provider of store fixtures for Hallmark shops and other retailers across the country – stood vacant for months before securing its current tenant at 910 E. 29th St.: Packerware Corp., which needed warehouse space as the company plans its own $118 million expansion at its production plant across town.

And the former Davol plant on East 22nd Street has a new parking lot, fresh exterior and a line of upgrades that make it suitable for Huxtable & Associates and other operations associated with its local owners.

“All of us are happy to keep our businesses here in Lawrence,” Belcher said.