Executives of the Gene Fritzel Construction Co. were at the downtown post office recently taking measurements and inspecting the building for possible acquisition.
Thomas Fritzel and Bob Schulte are leaders of the Fritzel group, whose downtown library expansion proposal has won support of the Library Board.
The group's proposal involves building a $30 million library on the current site of the post office, 645 Vt. The Fritzels are proposing that the current site of the library, which is just south of the post office, would be used for either a new multiuse commercial and residential building or an expansion of the nearby Eldridge Hotel.
The plan also includes building at least 260 underground parking spaces for the new library and perhaps up to 500 new underground spaces for the multiuse building. In total, the group is proposing $110 million in private development over a 10-year period on property that the Fritzels own in the 600, 700 and 800 blocks of Vermont Street.
Lawrence Postmaster Judy Raney characterized the possible purchase of the post office site as being in the preliminary phases and reiterated the need to keep a retail presence in the downtown area. She said that plans for a pending $500,000 remodel of the downtown post office continue.
"Anyone can make a proposal, and if real estate deems it a fair and equitable proposal, then the remodel could be put on hold," Raney said.
She said a "newer facility with fewer problems and more parking for our customers and employees" would be beneficial.
Meanwhile, the City Commission is expected to consider the Library Board's expansion recommendation at its Dec. 19 meeting.
"All options are on the table," Mayor Mike Amyx said. "One thing that I want is all funding options that the city will have essentially in its toolbox to consider a library proposal. We'll make a decision on the dollar amount that we're willing to ask the public to commit."
Amyx stipulated that any move of the post office would be fine as long as "the retail portion had its main presence downtown." He said the city had no preference as far as a location for a new postal facility, calling that a private deal.
Schulte, one of the Fritzel group's primaries, said the Library Board's recommendation allowed the talks to move to another level. Facing a February start date for the planned remodel of the post office, the group's goal is "to have something back to the post office" soon.
"The idea is that the post office would essentially relocate at no cost to the post office. So the cost of providing the location and providing the structure is on us," Schulte said, adding that they are actively seeking alternate downtown sites.
In a meeting Dec. 6, Amyx and City Manager Dave Corliss indicated to Schulte and Tom Fritzel their understanding of the importance of redevelopment for the future of downtown.
Two other private developers submitted proposals. A group led by Jeff Shmalberg and Martin Moore submitted a plan to build the library on the southeastern corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets, adjacent to the Lawrence Arts Center. Another group led by Doug Compton proposed a library for the northeastern corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. A proposal to build the library on the current site also was prepared by a city-hired consultant.