It’s great to see a major redevelopment project moving forward on the southwest corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
Developer Doug Compton indicated Monday that he hoped to begin construction within the next 30 days on a $10 million, seven-story building at the site. The development will include 55 apartments along with office and retail space. It’s not unlike what was envisioned at that site a decade ago as part of the Downtown 2000 project, which never received the financial commitments needed for its completion.
By contrast, the Compton project appears to be moving ahead smoothly. He said financing for the project is in place and he has begun pre-leasing space in the building, the second floor of which is expected to house his First Management Inc. offices. He’s finalizing a lease with a health club, which seems like a good fit for people who live and work downtown, and there are plans for a coffee shop and wine bar on the first floor.
Perhaps the most important thing the project brings to downtown, however, is more desirable residential space. The plan is to offer 10 studio units, 35 one-bedroom units and 10 two-bedroom units. They are all rentals and should provide a good option to the attractive, but pricey Hobbs Taylor Lofts a couple of blocks to the north. Compton said he hopes the apartments will draw a good mix of residents, including retirees, people who work downtown, university graduate students and young professionals.
Adding residential development downtown is a great way to create new demand for new kinds of retail businesses. Joe Flannery, president of downtown’s oldest retailer, Weaver’s Department Store, told the Journal-World he supports the project and sees the possibility that new apartment residents will help attract a drug store or even a grocery store to downtown.
For Compton, the project may be a prototype for other property he owns downtown. If the residential development takes hold, he has other locations where he’s willing to give it a try.
Lawrence’s downtown continues to be a treasure, but many people have been concerned about its slow transition to an entertainment district focused more on bars and restaurants than on retail stores. It’s hard for government to dictate how the area is used, but bringing more people downtown to live may just change the market in a way that’s more favorable to retail development.
It’s at least worth a try, especially when a private developer is willing to make that kind of investment in the future of downtown.