Archive for Monday, January 23, 2006

Retail planning on the horizon

Three major proposals on edges of city will be weighed in coming days

January 23, 2006


Faced with three major expansion proposals targeting the city's fastest growing areas, Lawrence planners are gearing up to determine the city's retail future.

A plan to add nearly 200,000 square feet of new commercial space in the northwest corner of the city, as well as a plan to add 28 acres of commercial zoning in the southeast area of the community, will be heard by Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners next week.

Waiting in the wings for February's planning commission meeting is a plan to add 55 acres of commercial zoning near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.

More retail needed?

All of it comes amid a recent retail study that suggests the city can accommodate more retail space, but also shows a higher than average retail vacancy rate in the downtown area.

The conflicting message has some city leaders urging caution.

"I think some people have the attitude of if you build it they will come," City Commissioner David Schauner said. "I think we should be building retail based on what we can support today, not what we think will be here tomorrow."

But a recent study - conducted at the request of city commissioners - suggested by most measures the city's retail market has room to absorb new space. Robert Lewis, the report's author, told commissioners his study found an overall retail vacancy rate of 3.9 percent, based on an inventory he took during the summer. That's below the 6 percent to 8 percent range most communities consider to be a normal vacancy rate.

"A rate of 3.9 percent is a pretty tight number in most markets," Lewis said.

Planning commissioners will get the first crack at deciding whether the low vacancy rate means new retail projects should be approved.

Meetings this week

At their 7 p.m. meeting tonight, planning commissioners will consider a request to add 28.8 acres of commercial zoning to the southeast corner of Kansas Highway 10 and O'Connell Road in southeast Lawrence. Specific plans about how many stores or how large they would be haven't been submitted yet by the development group, which is led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Bill Newsome.

At their Wednesday meeting, planning commissioners will review a preliminary development plan for the southeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. That plan - submitted by a group led by Lawrence developer Brian Kubota - calls for 198,714 square feet of commercial space. It would include sites for a convenience store, a drug store, a bank, a grocery store and five other retail buildings that could be used for restaurants, specialty shops or even a hotel.

Planning commissioners have tentatively scheduled a review of the biggest of the three projects at their Feb. 15 meeting. A group led by Lawrence developer Duane Schwada is seeking to rezone 55 acres of land on the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway for commercial uses. Details of the amount and size of the retail at that site haven't been submitted to planning officials yet.

Kubota said he hoped city leaders would take the approach that residents should have shopping opportunities near their homes. Both the northwest and southeast areas of the city are expected to add new residents.

"I would really like the city to get back to some more traditional planning," Kubota said. "It used to be that elementary schools would be the center of a neighborhood, then you would have housing around it, and then you would have a retail center that would be between two or three neighborhoods. As we expand in Lawrence, we have a chance to make that work again."


Sigmund 12 years ago

We have "protected" downtown Lawrence so much (by restricting new retail space elsewhere) that it has driven downtown rents sky high. While this benefits the owners of property downtown (not to mention the city that collects higher property taxes), it also causes prices to be higher for shoppers who ultimately have to bear the increase costs and at the same time have fewer local alternatives. Zero growth? Be careful what you ask for you might just get it.

mcoan 12 years ago

Sigmund's point is valid. But zero growth? Lawrence hasn't seen that EVER. At least not in population.

Lawrence is nationally recognized for keeping its downtown alive. But it has been very static for the last 20 years down there. We need retail, but it needs to go downtown. There's plenty of room on the side streets, even for big-box retail.

The most successful downtowns have 5 elements: Shopping, entertainment, employers, living space, and restriction of suburban growth. Pull out even ONE of those, and it eventually falls apart. Lawrence should be concentrating on restricting suburban growth, adding office space and urban living space to the downtown core, and increasing shopping options to include more "big box" retail and "lifestyle centers."

What you do NOT need is ever-expanding outward suburban growth: Growth should be "up," as in multi-story, and in infill projects to put more people on the existing developed land. You do NOT need to expand to Topeka and Kansas City.

badger 12 years ago

Yeah, spend lots of money to bring in a bunch of new business you're pretty sure you'll probably be able to support in a few years, so that you can have smaller versions of the chain stores everyone's trained to shop at. They they can whine about how the BabyGap isn't as big as the one in Oak Park Mall (or wherever) and still stop off there to shop on the way home from their more lucrative job than they'd ever have in Lawrence, and the chain stores can pull out after five years, because people still took their money out of town.

e_m's right. Spend that money courting businesses that pay better than 10 bucks an hour. Court technical jobs, engineering firms, design and development firms, bioscience. If you bring the jobs, the growth will come.

Rhoen 12 years ago

How many square feet of retail, office, and other commercial space has been sitting empty all around town for the past couple of years?

If you build it ... they will probably not be able to find anyone who can afford to occupy it.

sonny 12 years ago

SO So true Roen that a diffrent name. But anyway I've been trying to start a buiness for years but the city is so dam greedy so I can't afford to rent out a space. Being a owner of anything is lawrence a given. You got to have a lil lute lying around your fam casue if not not ging to happen. That why it's a fast growing city but it's starting to lose it's morals. What happen to the average joe starting up something? Now you have to be in a click and if your african american you have to have not's of frineds around here or lot's of money. It's sad I will have to open a recording studio in lower income area with more of my kind minorites. Drinving in the rich and doing away wiltih the poor I know lawrence were not welcome. it's so sad cause my coaches form Pee-wee to high school always said your special cuase your lawrence kids and we knew what he meant, it was like telling us we had super powers and we were a diffrent breed of people, more morals and we care and we stick togethter I don't no more I always knew it was bigger that football. "Your Lawrence Kids your special" (Skip Bennett) Southwest Jr. One of my favorite coaches and teachers. He ment it and I know he still does.

Richard Heckler 12 years ago

The controlling psychology of Lawrence growth is to keep bringing low paying retail jobs and build more houses then all will be swell. Thus far that concept has raised property taxes substantially throughout the city.

The study being quoted contradicts itself. Saying we can deal with more retail yet downtown has a high vacancy rate tells me there are not enough retail dollars in town to support downtown locations. Down sized big named stores tell me the same thing. 3 major corporate chain stores fit into one small sized K-Mart building...go figure. The bottom line is there is not enough retail dollars to generate revenue the city needs or for business owners to cover expenses. High vacancy and turnover is not a healthy sign no matter where it's located.

Old East Lawrence and Bo Harris has some approved new retail activity on the table as well. Lest we forget that bit of old news.

Why not adhere to horizon 20/20? Current retail dollars do suggest a lot of caution. Where's the rush? Be extremely frugal is my advice.

badger 12 years ago

I think some of it comes from the mentality that 250 jobs are 250 jobs, whether they represent retail jobs earning less than 20k a year with few or no benefits, or technical positions ranging up over 100k a year, with benefits and amenities. People hear that Wal-Mart will bring in 300 jobs, and they don't question whether those jobs will represent real growth for the community's job market or just another stop in the Dead-End Job Shuffle many people fall into. Six months at a gas station, a year of phone sales, ten months at Wal-Mart, a year of telephone customer service, two more months at a gas station...

Not a lot of people live in Lawrence and commute to KC or Topeka for a retail job. They exist, but most of them eventually quit or move. Low-end low-paying jobs are fine for college kids, single folks, people working a couple of years between high school and real life, but they're not something you can support a family on. No one is going to say, "What a great town of opportunity Lawrence is! I could work at the Gap, or Wal-Mart, or Applebee's! I have to go there!" They can stay where they are and work retail.

But if you work to bring in technical firms, to play up Lawrence's great creativity as a community as a good environment for design, architecture, engineering, bioscience, and other innovative industries, then instead of 200 jobs at seven bucks an hour ($2,912,000 total income annually assuming 40hrs52 weeks) you bring in 20 jobs at 100k annually, 30 people to support those 20 earning 60-80k, 150 people to support those 30 making 30-50K, and thirty or forty intern-level kids at that seven bucks an hour to do most of the legwork ($8,736,800 - $11,682,400 total income annually assuming hourly employees at 40hrs52 weeks).

Lawrence, as a large college town with a strong local community, a unique style, and a highly creative and unusual populace, will never be a retail mecca, but it offers a great environment for other avenues of growth. Seems kind of tragic to overlook that possibility and call having convenient access to the Banana Republic 'growth'.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.