News and notes from around town:
• Readers of the Journal-World classifieds may have noticed that a unique piece of property along the Kansas River is up for sale. The Abe & Jakes Landing building is on the market for $1.3 million. Technically, the city owns the building and real estate — which is just east of City Hall and just west of the former Riverfront Mall — but businessman Mike Elwell has a low-cost lease on the building that runs into 2087. That lease is what’s for sale.
Elwell told me this week that he moved to Florida about a year ago, and that owning the property no longer made sense for him. The 24,000-square-foot building — which in Lawrence’s early history was a barbed-wire factory — has been a college-oriented nightclub for years. But Elwell said the nightclub function is now only open one night a week, and most of the business’ revenue comes from wedding receptions and other private parties.
Elwell hopes that some type of similar use is found for the building in the future. There had been earlier speculation that investors in some of Lawrence’s hotels had been looking at the building as a possible small-scale convention center. Elwell estimates the building has capacity for about 700 people, and can accommodate about 400 people for a sit-down meal type of event. With some design changes, that capacity could be increased. Elwell said he had received some inquires from people in the hotel business, but said no deal is imminent.
“I think the economy is still holding everybody back a little bit right now,” Elwell said.
Elwell said he will continue to operate the business until he finds a buyer. He also said any deal will be structured in a way to honor contracts Abe & Jakes has with people who have booked the facility for a wedding reception or other event.
It will be interesting to see if the city of Lawrence ends up becoming a possible tenant for the building. The city currently is leasing several spaces around town — including for Municipal Court, parks and recreation offices, and the development services division. In particular, the city has been looking for a location to create a “one-stop shop” for planning and building permit activities. Currently, the planning division is in City Hall and the building permits division is in the former Riverfront Mall building. City Manager David Corliss said he’s aware of the building’s availability and likes its location, but said he is not in any active discussions with Elwell about it. Although the city owns the building, it would still need to pay Elwell to transfer the lease, since Elwell is not interested in walking away from the agreement. Corliss also said costs to renovate the building for office use could be significant.
The building does have several unique features, including 50-foot high ceilings in most places. Elwell began working on the building in 1991 after securing a deal with the city to lease the building in exchange for making it habitable again. The lease does require Elwell to pay the city $4,800 per year for parking considerations in the city parking garage that is adjacent to the building. He completed work on the building in about 2002.
“It took a lot longer to finish than I initially thought,” Elwell said. “When we started, there were a couple of raccoons living in it, 400 pigeons and I don’t know how many derelicts crawling in and out of it.”
Elwell estimated that he spent more than $2 million on the renovation.
• We reported earlier this week that Lawrence has landed a major youth basketball tournament for this March. Expect an announcement in the near future that the same group that is involved with the basketball tournament — the United States Specialty Sports Association — has chosen Lawrence for its premier "World Series" softball event for 12-year old girls fast pitch teams. The event would be a five-day tournament in July. It likely would bring about 70 teams to the city, which would fill nearly all Lawrence hotel rooms.
• Speaking of announcements, expect one soon from the company I work for. The World Company has struck a deal to buy the Lawrence Give Back program. The program offers loyalty cards to shoppers who can then use the cards to get discounts at a host of Lawrence merchants and restaurants. The program also has a unique feature in that every time a shopper uses the card, a percentage of the sale is donated to non-profits that participate in the program. The program was started by Lawrence businesswoman Constance Wolfe in 2009. Plans call for her to remain involved with the program with The World Company. Look for more details in the future.