Plans are in the works to convert the former Don’s Steakhouse building in eastern Lawrence into a homeless shelter to replace the existing Lawrence Community Shelter in the downtown area.
Both Mayor Rob Chestnut and City Commissioner Aron Cromwell confirmed that they had been notified that a deal was pending for the Lawrence Community Shelter to purchase the building, which most recently housed Lone Steer BBQ.
Loring Henderson, executive director of the shelter, said Monday afternoon that he did not want to talk about specific sites or contract negotiations, but said he was planning a press conference for later this week to make a significant announcement.
The former steakhouse building — 2176 E. 23rd St. — would have to receive a special-use permit from the City Commission before it could be converted into a homeless shelter.
Both Chestnut and Cromwell said they believed the site offered some good possibilities.
“There’s no site that is going to be perfect, but I think this will be one site most will be able to deal with,” Cromwell said. “There will be some businesses out there that have to receive some reassurances.”
Pat Slimmer, an owner of Slimmer’s Auto Service at 2030 E. 23rd Street, said he does have concerns.
“I don’t think it is in the best interest of the community to rezone prime commercial space at the gateway of the city,” Slimmer said. “I don’t think it is the best use for that property.”
Chestnut said he was pleased that the shelter — which currently operates at 10th and Kentucky streets — was moving ahead to find a site that will make it easier to house the homeless. He said the property was large enough that it would give shelter leaders a better chance to adequately buffer the shelter from surrounding properties.
The shelter has long sought a new location and recently has struggled with overcrowding after The Salvation Army closed its shelter earlier this summer. The Community Shelter is now seeking to add a fire sprinkler and make other improvements at its current location to accommodate more people. City commissioners will consider approving those improvements at their meeting today.
The city is being asked to spend $50,000 in Community Development Block Grant money to make those improvements at the existing shelter.
The shelter’s operating permit for its existing location is set to expire in April.