When most new business was building in Lawrence on South Iowa Street in 2001, Peoples Bank became one of the first businesses to build on far west Sixth Street.
The locally owned company knew exactly what it was looking for — growth.
“This is an area that was developing rapidly and continues to develop rapidly, not only as sort of the main gateway entrance from the west into the city, but also the new high school, at the time it was the new high school, residential growth, commercial growth all projected,” says Warner Lewis, director of marketing for Peoples Bank, which has its main Lawrence offices at 4831 W. Sixth St. “And it’s still happening here.”
Yes, it’s still happening, though growth in the area of Sixth Street bounded by Wakarusa to the east and the South Lawrence Trafficway to the west has slowed a bit thanks to the economic uncertainty of the past two years.
So, what will West Sixth Street look like by the time the bank branch is ready for its 20th anniversary?
When talking about West Sixth Street, city planning director Scott McCullough admits he doesn’t know exactly how the retail corridor will look in a decade or even a year from now.
“I guess I know where it is, don’t always know where it’s going,” he says. “We’ve still got a few large vacant properties on Sixth Street that we anticipate and expect to develop at some point. The economy has certainly slowed development.”
But what he can tell you is this: The city has learned from its other major retail sectors.
Sure, it’ll have that big-box feel of South Iowa and that “edge of town” feel of East 23rd, but McCullough says what consumers heading west on Sixth Street won’t find is themselves repeatedly slamming on the brakes in stop-and-go traffic situations.
“We do have access management standards for that stretch of Sixth Street, which in our opinion would preclude an East 23rd Street-type situation or even a South Iowa traffic situation,” McCullough says. “I do think we’re going to see those three areas of town look differently, feel differently, drive differently throughout the years of development and growth.”
That ongoing and future smooth ride is brought to Lawrence by a system of retail “nodes” that allow one driveway to feed into several shops. This helps create less of a stop-and-go effect found on East 23rd Street, where most shops have their own driveways and entrance points from that main artery.
An example of recent node-type development is the new Walmart on the northwest corner of the Sixth and Wakarusa. That site could be a template for other sites farther west on Sixth Street.
“Take a look at the newer Walmart site: there’s no access directly to Sixth Street. And any pad sites that develop in that area will not have access to Sixth Street,” McCullough says. “Which clears the way for users of Sixth Street to keep using Sixth Street in a direct straight line.”
This will reduce congestion.
Roger Zalneraitis, economic development coordinator and planner for the city, says, “It’s more of a town feel when you get out there as opposed to just going along (past) gas station after gas station.”
McCullough believes the folks at Peoples Bank, as well as other consumers, retailers and drivers, will be pleased with West Sixth Street.
“We want a vibrant economy,” McCullough says. “We want vibrant, healthy growth, and we’re doing what we can to establish a framework by which the market can determine some of that.”