About two minutes.
That’s how long it takes a motorist to travel from Sixth Street and Folks Road to the interchange of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
It also may be the difference between Lawrence having a new Lowe’s home improvement store and missing out on the retailer for years to come.
That was the message coming out of City Hall as city commissioners Tuesday night rejected a plan that would have allowed Lowe’s to build at Sixth and Folks, an area zoned for residential development. Commissioners instead tried to convince Lowe’s to locate at Sixth and the SLT on property already zoned for big-box retail.
That idea fell flat, and Lowe’s left the meeting giving the impression it may be several years before it comes back to Lawrence with another plan.
One day later, the question floating around town was: Can two minutes really make that much of a difference?
Maybe, maybe not.
“I think the major retailers that are out there looking right now — and there are very few — probably would say that (Sixth and SLT) site is a little early,” said Doug Brown, an agent with Lawrence-based McGrew Commercial. “The big boxes that are looking right now are looking for ‘A’ sites. They’re looking for the corner of Main and Main, and that is all they are looking for.”
That’s what Lowe’s officials told commissioners. A representative for Lowe’s told commissioners that the Sixth and SLT site was too far removed from major neighborhoods and wasn’t close enough to existing commercial.
“That will be a great retail site someday,” said John Petersen, an attorney for Lowe’s. “But it won’t be a good retail site in 2011. It won’t be a good one in 2012.”
That’s not what city commissioners wanted to hear. The city has pinned a lot of its retail hopes on the Sixth and SLT site. It is the largest, vacant property that’s zoned retail in the city. It can accommodate two big-box retailers of 175,000 square feet a piece, plus more than a half-dozen smaller retailers.
Not surprisingly, the developers for the Sixth and SLT site are disputing Lowe’s claims that the property is still several years away from being an attractive retail site.
“We like Lowe’s and want to work with them, but right now, Lowe’s is talking from a script,” said Steve Schwada, a Lawrence businessman who is part of the development group that owns the Sixth and SLT site.
Schwada said he was optimistic the site would be part of Lawrence’s “near future,” and said that it was being actively looked at by retailers.
He declined to disclose retailers looking at the site, but there’s been speculation in the community that Menards, another home improvement retailer is looking for sites in the area. That speculation has been fueled by Menards submitting plans for stores in Salina and Manhattan, which would be the company’s first foray into Kansas.
On Wednesday, not everyone was certain that Lowe’s was done looking at Lawrence. Brown said Lowe’s has had Lawrence on its radar screen since the mid-1990s and the company once put an offer on a site between the Wakarusa River and the South Lawrence Trafficway along South Iowa Street, but the deal ultimately fell apart.
“There are other sites out there for Lowe’s,” said Brown, although he said many of the sites aren’t currently zoned retail. “But they haven’t liked those sites as well as they like this one.”
A Lowe’s representative did confirm to commissioners that site plans had been prepared for three other Lawrence locations recently, but upper management had not approved any of those sites. Further details on those sites weren’t offered.