Archive for Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Group floats riverside development idea in North Lawrence

Riverside redevelopment: Group hopes to highlight city’s waterfront

A group of local developers wants to give people in Lawrence a new reason to visit the banks of the Kansas River.

October 7, 2008


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.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

I guess we finally know why the Gaslight is closing.

flyin_squirrel 7 years ago

Bob,Why would mass street fight this? Mass St. should fight developments on the other side of town, but this will compliment them. More residents and customers closer to downtown will only help the downtown businesses. One thing any downtown needs is residents living in or nearby. This sounds like it will increase the population base near downtown.

readit 7 years ago

Yes! It's such a shame that the river isn't showcased more in Lawrence. And clean up Burcham Park while you're at it. Worst park in the city.

Cait McKnelly 7 years ago

This project is going to go down like the Titanic. Not because it's not a good idea. It's a great idea. But historically this city hates North Lawrence and will do nothing to assist and develop it, unlike the Oread neighborhood. North Lawrence has always been "the wrong side of the tracks", even moreso than East Lawrence. Proximity to the train tracks has always been a sticking point. Who wants to live/work/shop next to an area where trains go by at all hours of the day and night? This is sad because there are homes in North Lawrence with just as much historical value as those in Old West Lawrence. But those homes were working class homes when they were built and remain working class homes now. Poor North Lawrence. It will always be the red headed step child.

Christine Pennewell Davis 7 years ago

ok people so is the trailer court over there called gaslight or not I seem to have read conflicting data on that one?

cowboy 7 years ago

great idea , most of the ground is bought already , get it done , use the obsolete T buses to have shuttles between downtown and "Uptown".

alm77 7 years ago

Sounds awesome. Do it! I just hope it's a success.

birdsandflowers 7 years ago

I LOVE the idea. I've been to other cities that have beautiful attractions along riverfronts and always wondered why Lawrence (and Topeka for that matter) didn't tap into the natural resource of the river to enhance their cities.I hope the development includes numerous fine dining establishments that capture the ambiance of the night lights shining off the river.

KU_cynic 7 years ago

Perhaps a viable idea.But please let's not hold up the city, county, and school district with crazy tax-subsidized schemes like TIF financing. Let this development rise (or not) based on its own merit, not the ability of politically connected developers to hoodwink our amateurish city politicans and staff into tax subsidies.

50YearResident 7 years ago

Keep in mind, the levee is higher than the surrounding land and can not be built on so the only view of the river would be 3rd floor or higher from the lowland. When you get high enough to view the river all you will see is the yellow foamy crud floating on stagnant water, This is not something to draw large crowds with.

Marty_McFly 7 years ago

Gaslight trailer park = South Lawrence next to home depotGaslight tavern = bar across street south of johnny'scase closed. heavy.

BuffyloGal 7 years ago

When they start talking about an aquarium to vitalize the downtown area further, you know you are now in every other major city in America. Expensive condos close to a downtown area is never the answer.

BigAl 7 years ago

I think this is a great idea. The upside to this is endless. I totally agree with Rick Renfro that the river is almost a totally untapped resource in Lawrence. This sounds like a win-win situation all around.

cowboy 7 years ago

gaslight is a bar across from Johnny's , both the malls were poorly implemented with third tier tenants and high prices. A lot of the business owners in Lawrence , IMHO , think if you open a door your should have all the business , they forget quality , service , and value is what creates long term success.we ate a one of the BBQ joints downtown on Sunday , the service was pathetic and the food not much better, someone ought to start a waitperson school n lawrence !

cowboy 7 years ago

Riverfront failed , went mostly vacant for awhile , then had temp tenants , then the Marriot , Sunflower and city offices

konzahawk 7 years ago

Sounds great. While they are at it, maybe they can get rid of that god-awful grain elevator. At least, spruce it up. Lawrence is supposed to be the city of arts. That grain elevator is the largest canvas in town. I'm thinking Frank Lloyd Wright-type art and iron work. Turn this eyesore into a tourist attraction or tear it down.

flyin_squirrel 7 years ago

cheeseburger,All those rivers are dirty, filthy, muddy and worse...

8muddyboots 7 years ago

The old train depot is such a showcase for the city right there across from Johnny's. This sounds like things are right on track - investing in the old train depot paid off and now has created enough momentum for adding umph to the business scene there. In case folks haven't been paying attention - north lawrence is looking good and it's high time to move forward. Flooding is ALWAYS an issue next to a river but Johnny's has dealt with that in the past. They know what they're getting into. One more thing - if you think the river stinks stay away from it so that those of us that appreciate it won't have to deal with your bad attitude. Clean up your act - don't let your dog dupey rinse into the storm drain, stop over fertilizing your yard, get your oil leaks taken care of, & honestly, pick up a little trash before it gets into the storm drains - even if it's not your' on the wild side. The rest of us & the river would be most appreciative - so would these creative small business owners who are willing to put their necks out for our community.

d_prowess 7 years ago

The vision in my head of a project like this looks great, but I do wonder what would go in there and would it add to the community or just shift revenue from other businesses. I feel like the last census showed that we were fairly stagnant in population growth. Therefore would new restaurants or stores just eat up the consumer dollars that currently go to other local businesses? I am not saying that is necessarily a bad thing since that is just competition, but I would hate to then see a lot of empty storefronts throughout the rest of town.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

People come up with good ideas before knowing if there are enough retail and residential dollars to support such a project. There are only so many retail and residential dollars in any community. If neither produces the desired results, tax and user fees go up as has happened the last 20 years and locals pick up the tab.Residential including rental and retail are flooded. This is a known factor although ignored. Some like to pretend Lawrence is more than it is. Some do not want to believe in Economic Displacement, Economic Pollution or flooded markets. The sub prime fiasco is far from over maybe a few years. The Antique Mall building downtown is for sale why not invest in that and bring Lands End to town. This would increase walk-by traffic for all merchants and pay back the community. Or invest in Tanger Mall and make it work... laundromat,grocery and a hardware store is all that North Lawrence has been asking.The bottom line is people come to Lawrence for football,basketball and downtown. Too much more traffic at that intersection would spell economic disaster for any retail development. Access would be difficult no matter what. Shoppers are not going drive from anywhere to shop there as a destination point.

Keith 7 years ago

They should be required to build everything on barges so they can float in the next flood.

packs_of_wild_dogzz 7 years ago

Sounds like a cool idea. Why would Mass St. fight it? It seems like it would basically be an extension of Mass St.

sunflour 7 years ago

mommaeffortx2, the Gaslight has been across from Johnny's at 2nd & Locust for at least 4 years now. This is an interesting idea, but what makes them think this is a better idea than the failed outlet mall along the river that is now a hotel, or the development along N 2nd Street that now stands empty -- the mall near the turnpike entrance, and also the new buildings along the street... People have built up new stuff at least 3 times and had it fail miserably.

jafs 7 years ago

This might be an interesting idea, but only if it can be done without any "tax incentives" for the developers involved, and without huge outlays for infrastructure from the city.But, it very well might not work, for many of the reasons stated above.

verity 7 years ago

Somebody fill me in---I thought the Riverfront Mall had not failed, but was bought out by someone who wanted to change it. What was the story there?This sounds like a great idea---San Antonio also has a great riverwalk. I also like the idea of closing part of Mass Street to vehicle traffic so there can be more outdoor dining and less crowded sidewalks.

SMe 7 years ago

First thought was "It's about (&%% time."Second thought was "Oh, yea. Riverfront Mall."Third thought "Another way to get into the tax basket."Last thought "Citizens are screwed again."

texburgh 7 years ago

If done well, these kinds of developments do work. Look at Omaha (thanks Pywacket) but also look at the River Market in Little Rock or the tobacco warehouse district in Richmond, Virginia. Restaurants, shops, museums, theater, and residences all must be part of the mix.

alm77 7 years ago

SMe, that's what I'm afraid of, but on the other hand, I agree with BigAl, the river could be a great resource. I can't believe we live in a town with a river running through it and it's as though it doesn't even exist. I am concerned about the smell though, that river isn't the cleanest.

OzChicklet 7 years ago

8muddyboots (Anonymous) says: ...One more thing - if you think the river stinks stay away from it so that those of us that appreciate it won't have to deal with your bad attitude. Clean up your act - don't let your dog dupey rinse into the storm drain, stop over fertilizing your yard, get your oil leaks taken care of, & honestly, pick up a little trash before it gets into the storm drains - even if it's not your' on the wild side. The rest of us & the river would be most appreciative - so would these creative small business owners who are willing to put their necks out for our community.________The crud in the river is dumped upstream and what we see here is a result of that. I lived here when it was still safe to boat and catch fish from the river.The idea is good, but the location is very poor.

Christine Pennewell Davis 7 years ago

Thanks people I thought so but hey you never know.

bangaranggerg 7 years ago

Best development idea for Lawrence in so many years I can't even recall. I'm wishing I'd have thought of it. If there are condos overlooking the river, I'd move there in a second. This is exciting, I hope the drop some big money developing the area and it doesn't end up like Topeka's riverfront development idea with some crumby ballpark that's never going to happen.

rtwngr 7 years ago

Let's see, the river smells bad. The traffic through that stretch of N. Lawrence bottlenecks about there. The infrastructure of N. Lawrence can barely handle the population that currently resides there. Great idea.

flyin_squirrel 7 years ago

I think it is a great idea. You cannot compare the Riverfront mall since you couldn't even see the river when inside (except on the staircases). And the tenants at the Riverfront mall were terrible.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 7 years ago

Great idea! Only one question: how will they fix the traffic issues? That's already a nasty intersection. They'd have to do some major road surgery first.

Tammy Copp-Barta 7 years ago

Could we PLEASE have a grocery store too?????

Lenette Hamm 7 years ago

If Lawrence can mimic what Wichita did to its riverfront, that would be awesome - but I still remember the fights and discussion that went on when the Riverfront outlet mall building was erected. The venue ultimately got rave reviews and high traffic, until the "new" wore off and either people quit coming to Lawrence for that shopping adventure, or Downtown Lawrence quit promoting it (and the one in N. Lawrence, too...) "Build it and they will come". Fine. Only don't let yet another expensive venture fall into ruin......

Christine Pennewell Davis 7 years ago

sunflour does that mean two gaslights in lawrence? I thought the trailer court in north lawrence had a diffrent name oh well live and learn.

blindrabbit 7 years ago

I can just imagine gondolas on the Kaw to follow! How romantic, a muddy river full of upstream waterwater treatment effluents and pesticides. Just watch out for the dam!Really, the projects sounds like a good idea, based on the minimum of facts we now know.

OzChicklet 7 years ago

Sunflour hit the nail on the head:This is an interesting idea, but what makes them think this is a better idea than the failed outlet mall along the river that is now a hotel, or the development along N 2nd Street that now stands empty - the mall near the turnpike entrance, and also the new buildings along the street: People have built up new stuff at least 3 times and had it fail miserably._______History will repeat itself once again. They better have good flood insurance. I remember when the outlet mall on the river had flood water halfway up the windows on the lower floor. Very scary. However, if this project does fly, it might be rather cool if they included an area for an everyday farmers market.

gccs14r 7 years ago

OKC's Bricktown is pretty cool, too, all things considered. If this development goes in, they should set up either a trolley or ferry to link it to downtown.

50YearResident 7 years ago

Location! Location! Location! Success is determined by location. One way in and one way out of this dead end area. That is the reason the other two malls failed. If you can't get hundreds of cars in and out it is destined to fail. Add to that the river and train problem and this will be an investor's nightmare. You might as well throw the money into the river and watch it float away as that is what is going to happen to it anyway.

Philboyd_Studge 7 years ago

I understand the skepticism and the comparisons of this possible project to previous failed factory malls, etc. And, of course, no development is a guaranteed winner. But a pedestrian friendly, mixed-use project that puts focus on the river -- Lawrence's most important and beautiful natural asset -- makes good sense. I've lived in a couple communities out West that invested in similar riverside developments. In both cases (Truckee, CA; and Bend, OR) they really had positive impacts.

allateup 7 years ago

Does this mean Johnny's tavern would do something about their BATHROOM's?

nwkshawk 7 years ago

Sounds good. But then again, anything that gets rid of trailer parks sounds good to me.

nobody1793 7 years ago

Someone needs to build an outlet mall there.

flyin_squirrel 7 years ago

Ever been to the San Antonio River Walk? It is nothing more than an open storm sewer turned into a major tourist attraction. Why can Lawrence not do the same?

KU_Dude 7 years ago

I wonder if the developers have considered expanding the trailer park? If that was done, I'm sure Wal-Mart would consider putting a super-center next door.

The_Flying_Colonel 7 years ago

What a great idea!!! In addition to all the locations mentioned by others, Tulsa's Riverwalk has been extremely successful. Here is a link to it:

Confrontation 7 years ago

gccs14r (Anonymous) says: "OKC's Bricktown is pretty cool, too, all things considered. If this development goes in, they should set up either a trolley or ferry to link it to downtown."I also like Bricktown. Sure, it's a man-made canal, but it draws a ton of tourists. The water taxi can drop you off at any area along the canal. Of course, they do have big attractions in Bricktown, such as the Ballpark, museums, Bass Pro Shop, etc.

packs_of_wild_dogzz 7 years ago

Northtown,What the hell did you say??? Maybe you could try constructing meaningful sentences with proper punctuation. It might make what you have to say easier to understand.

Curtis Lange 7 years ago

Sounds like a great idea! Only problems I see are noise from the trains keeping come people away and the lack of viable entrances in and out of this area.

easmith14 7 years ago

Floating a new development idea? Lawhorn, that idea doesn't hold water.

grimpeur 7 years ago

Will the project include a grocery store?

rockchalkjayhawk 7 years ago

mom - there is a gaslight trailer park over by home depot and then there is the Gas Light Tavern right next to Johnny's. I have no idea what the name of the trailer park near the river is called.

RKLOG 7 years ago

No more development. Too much already. Nothing wrong with the way it looks up there. Go somewhere else to make your money.

John Hamm 7 years ago

Alm77 and all those thinking how great a "resource" the river could be to the town. I suggest you go down there (the river) after some heavy rains out West (past Topeka) or South (wherever) and watch the untreated sewage and foam float past.Fixin' it up could be a good idea. San Antonio, Wichita and others are really nice but there's no way the state is gonna force Kansas municipalities up river to clean up their acts - that'd be too expensive and who needs (wants) clean water anyways?

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

One thing that would work and is a proven theory. Johnny's.Set a rustic looking new Johnny's back where the mobile homes are, complete with inside/ outside bar and dining,blues and bluegrass music indoor stage and a pinball room. Remove the old wood structures and replace with landscaping. Try a florist shop in the stone buildings.Good Luck

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