It was high-price ping-pong.
Steve Schwada, member of a longtime Lawrence development family, sat on the back row of the jury assembly room. Penny Tuckel, member of a longtime Lawrence agriculture family, sat on the front row.
A crowded room watched as multimillion-dollar bids bounced from one side of the room and then the other. At stake in this closely watched Douglas County Sheriff’s auction was the future of one of Lawrence’s prime pieces of industrial property: 155 acres just north of the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike.
Tuckel and her husband, Russell, won ownership of the property with a $2.95 million bid. But now questions are emerging about what the future holds for the site, which economic development leaders have touted because of its proximity to Interstate 70.
After the auction, Tuckel declined to say whether her group would seek immediate development of the property, which has become a leading site for a new warehouse for Berry Plastics.
“The city/county government, and many others, have taken an intense interest in the proposed use of the parcel, and I feel sure all involved will keep the best interests of the city of Lawrence and Douglas County residents at heart,” Tuckel said in a written statement.
The property had been jointly owned by the Tuckels and a development group led by Schwada. A Douglas County District Court judge ordered the sale after a lawsuit was filed by Schwada’s group saying the two sides no longer could agree about the property’s future. Schwada had asked for the property to be split in half, but the judge ruled the equitable manner to dissolve the joint ownership was through a sale.
Bidding started at $1.3 million, and 29 bids later the auction was over when Schwada declined to go any further. The auction was open to all bidders, but only Tuckel and Schwada bid. The winner was required to present a cashier’s check for the full $2.95 million within two hours.
In the lawsuit leading up to the sale, allegations were made that the Tuckels were not interested in immediately developing the property, although the Tuckels have said the Berry Plastics project does interest them.
Berry has been seeking a site for a 600,000-square-foot warehouse to support its plastic drink cup manufacturing facility in Lawrence. Berry had been doing its negotiating with Schwada.
Lawrence Mayor Mike Amyx said he’s planning to meet with all parties involved to see whether the project can remain on track.
“This piece of property is important for the city’s future tax base,” Amyx said. “As we look to bring job growth to Lawrence, we need to have property that is suited for all types of jobs. This property does that.”
Neighbors near the site have filed two lawsuits related to the zoning and annexation of the property. A spokesman for the neighborhood group said the new ownership could ease some of their concerns.
“I think the neighbors will welcome this as a positive development,” Dave Ross said. “We hope the new owners will be willing to work with the neighborhood so we can all have something that would be good for the community and positive for the neighbors.”
Ross said neighbors have seen plans for the Berry warehouse and believe it can work on the site with proper screening. But neighbors want all the property zoned to a lesser industrial zoning category to remove the possibility that the site could be developed with a truck stop or other more intensive uses.