There are a number of positive aspects to a seven-story, mixed-use building being proposed for the southwest corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
First, it’s good to see private developers willing to invest in such a project. The group, led by local businessman Doug Compton, is looking at a $9.5 million, seven-story building on the corner just east of the U.S. Bank tower. Plans call for 55 apartments on the top five floors, office space on the second four and retail space, perhaps including a fitness club and restaurant, on the ground floor.
The project would better utilize a prime central location in downtown Lawrence. A seven-story structure is a good, dense development that adds significant retail and residential space in a relatively small footprint.
Compton said his First Management company might occupy the second-floor office space, which would add about 50 employees to the downtown work force, along with tenants for the 55 apartments, all of whom who would help support downtown retail and other businesses. Compton said he envisions the studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments attracting a mix of young professionals and retirees who want to live downtown.
The area of the plan that may demand the most scrutiny from city officials is the group’s intention to depend on the city’s parking garage directly to the south to serve the development. The 500-space garage is rarely full, but the development would have a significant impact on the availability of parking there. The developers plan to add two interior connections to the new structure, but it’s unclear whether they would seek to set aside parking spaces for apartment tenants or simply advise them to buy long-term permits to park in the garage.
The city garage, of course, was intended from the beginning to support development in that area as part of the Downtown 2000 plan. The city created a TIF (tax increment financing) district with the idea that increased property taxes generated by new development there would be used to repay $8.6 million in bonds for the garage construction. Unfortunately, that development never occurred, forcing the city to find other funds to repay the debt. Another silver lining of the proposed new development is that it might help repay those bonds, which have a 20-year term that won’t run out until 2020.
Compton said the development group hasn’t made a final decision to proceed on the project, but plans have been submitted to city and construction bids went out last week, so the developers seem serious about moving ahead.
City officials should take a careful look at the plans — and maybe a second look at the parking issues — to make sure the proposed development is a good fit for that site, but the preliminary plans show what could be a promising project for Lawrence’s downtown.