A development group is working to create a new riverside district of shops and offices - and perhaps homes or a hotel - on property near Johnny's Tavern in North Lawrence.
Developers don't have specific plans for the nearly 20 acres surrounding the longtime Lawrence tavern, but they envision an area where people could dine, shop and stroll along the Kansas River, said Rick Renfro, owner of Johnny's.
"One of the things I really like about the idea is that the river is a resource that not enough people get to take advantage of in Lawrence," Renfro said.
The project, though, is far from a done deal. The development first needs to acquire property from the city and from the Kaw River Drainage District. The two entities own a combined 4 acres of property near the Kansas River levee that the development group wants to add to the approximately 16 acres the group already owns.
Commissioners will discuss the request at their 5:30 p.m. meeting tonight, but will not take any action to formally sell the property to the group. The developers have proposed paying about $330,000 for the property.
The idea has caught the interest of city staff members.
"I think the opportunity to do a major redevelopment adjacent to the river is very exciting," said City Manager David Corliss. "I think it could be an extension of downtown. I think it could be complementary to downtown."
The development group clearly wants the project to tie into the success of downtown. The group is named North Mass Development Group LLC. In addition to Renfro, it includes Wichita developer Christian Ablah - who led efforts to develop a Home Depot and Best Buy at 31st and Iowa - and Lawrence businessman Jon Davis.
Lawrence attorney Dan Watkins, who is representing the group, said the project would be a true mixed-use development - meaning that shops, restaurants and offices may be located on the ground floors of buildings while apartments or condos could be located on upper floors.
The project potentially could dislocate some existing residences. The proposed redevelopment area includes an aged trailer court of about 25 units north of the Johnny's location. Watkins, though, said there would be plenty of time to develop a plan to help any residents relocate, if it comes to that. Watkins said he thought it would be about two years before the project got close to a construction stage.
That's in part because the developers will have to receive a host of approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that any development doesn't damage the Kansas River levee system.
The project also will have to receive City Commission approval, starting with the agreement to sell property to the developers. Corliss said the property the developers would like to purchase from the city contains no public amenities such as trails or recreation areas. He said the property essentially is vacant ground near the base of the Kansas River levee.
The project also would not make any changes to the Kansas River levee itself or to the popular hike and bike trail on top of the levee.
"We actually think the project would enhance the use of that trail," Corliss said.