Archive for Saturday, January 8, 2011

Another multistory building proposed for downtown

Project would redevelop 800 block of Vermont

January 8, 2011


A five-story building with apartments, offices and perhaps even a small-scale grocery store may be coming to the center of downtown, if city commissioners are willing to make major changes to a prominent public parking lot.

A group led by Lawrence architect Paul Werner and local developer Thomas Fritzel are floating a concept that would redevelop the entire public parking lot on the east side of the 800 block of Vermont Street with a project that Werner says will provide downtown with a major boost.

“We need more bodies in downtown Lawrence,” Werner said. “Particularly bodies that have a place to park. If we had 100 people living in that block with dedicated parking, I think it would be a major step forward for downtown.”

City commissioners will hear the concept at their Tuesday evening meeting and provide feedback on whether the idea is worth exploring further. Among the major points of the proposal:

• A five-story building would occupy the entire 1.4-acre city-owned parking lot that stretches from Ninth Street to just south of Eighth Street.

• The city would be guaranteed at least 159 public parking spaces — the same amount that exists in the current lot — as part of the project. All the spaces would be covered parking. In addition, the project would have about 200 other parking spaces that would be reserved for apartments, offices and other users. In total, there would be three levels of parking — one below ground and two above ground.

• The project would include either 48 apartment units and 44,400 square feet of office space or 86 apartments and 12,000 square feet of office space, depending on office demand. The building near the corner of Ninth and Massachusetts also would have 15,000 square feet that developers ideally want to fill with a grocery store. Werner said the development group has had some preliminary discussions with a grocer who expressed interest, but he said he has no commitment from a grocer. He said the development group likely would be willing to tell the city that the large space wouldn’t be filled by a restaurant.

“A grocery store would be a home run,” Werner said. “A pharmacy or drugstore use I think would be OK too. But a chain restaurant at that corner would not be the biggest point of excitement for the city, and we think that is right.”

City Manager David Corliss said he plans to tell commissioners that the project is worth exploring.

“We want downtown to be strong, and if downtown is to grow, it likely will be vertically,” Corliss said.

Corliss, though, said the project promises to be complex. He said the city will need to ensure that it is getting enough benefits from the development in exchange for allowing a private developer to use the valuable asset of nearly 1.5 acres of ground in the center of downtown.

The fact the property is city-owned also is expected to provide added financial benefit. The development group has said tax increment financing likely would be sought. A TIF allows any new property and sales taxes generated on the property to be captured and used to pay for public infrastructure related to the project. Since the property currently is city-owned, it generates no sales or property taxes. That means 100 percent of all property and sales taxes would be eligible to be rebated back to the development to pay for public infrastructure costs.

The project also is sure to spark discussion among other downtown businesses. Multiple businesses rely on the current public parking lot in the 800 block of Vermont. On Friday, reaction was mixed among businesses that are adjacent to the lot.

“My personal opinion is that it would be a mistake,” said Walt Houk, an owner of Travellers, 831 Mass. “As far as customers going into a parking garage, I don’t know if they would like that. It is convenient right now the way it is.”

Brad Parsons — an owner of Marks Jewelers, 817 Mass. — said he wants to learn more about the parking arrangements, but likes the idea of more people living and working in downtown.

“It sure seems like an idea well worth exploring with an open mind,” Parsons said. “I don’t see how more people living in downtown can do anything to hurt retail at all.”

The proposal comes just weeks after a group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton started construction on a seven-story apartment, office and retail building at Ninth and New Hampshire streets.

City commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.


Floyd Craig 7 years, 4 months ago

lawrence dosent need that its another way to get money from then city to get or make more bonds plus lawrence has enoiugh empty buildings all over town wny another one

7 years, 4 months ago

The idea is to improve downtown and attrack more shoppers. That way we would have fewer empty buildings...and a nicer place to live, work, shop. Talbots has announced closure because people like to go out of town to shop---we need to give people from out of town more reasons to shop in Lawrence, and people in Lawrence more reasons to stay and shop here.

You'll enjoy a read of "Naked Economics" by Wheelan---it's fun, and the world of money, business and government will make a lot more sense.

irvan moore 7 years, 4 months ago

Corliss thinks it's worth exploring sounds like a warning flag to me.

jafs 7 years, 4 months ago

A TIF doesn't allow taxes to be used for public infrastructure costs, it allows them to be used for what would otherwise be private expenses.

Collecting taxes and then using them for public purposes is a better idea.

7 years, 4 months ago

Why do you say that a TIF does not pay for public purposes? If they go to public infrastructure such as roads, parking, and upgrades to the utilities that the city owns, in order to accomodate the addition of the new buildings, then those benefit all of us. In fact...that parking lot is looking pretty sad and will need some up upgrades soon anyway.

It's awesome that the Vermont St Station building at 840 Vermont is so well cared for...and now the lot south of it is being improved along with the addition to the old Carnegie Library. Way to go!

jafs 7 years, 4 months ago

There's no need for a TIF to pay for any of the items you mention - those are all normally paid for with taxes, and would be regardless of TIFs.

What it does is allow the developers to spend what would otherwise become tax revenue on items which would otherwise be their own costs.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 4 months ago

I have no problems with the project itself, but I am concerned about the likelihood of TIF being used to help finance it.

What is the city's policy on TIF? How is it determined which projects are eligible, and which are not?

eddog 7 years, 4 months ago

Are you kidding me? Where will people park for the one or two years it takes to build this. After its built will people want to park underground? I doubt it. I think it will hurt the retail in the 800 block of mass., which in my opinion is the best block downtown because of the parking availability. They are not adding sales tax dollars to the city but hurting those businesses that generate them. I am in favor of more people downtown but not at the expense of eliminating any parking, whether short term or long.

average 7 years, 4 months ago

Parking, parking, parking.

The 800 block of Mass is between 500 and 800 feet of the existing NH garage.

The distance from the back of a typical Walmart Supercenter (where they put the milk), to the nearest car in the parking lot, via the cashier, is 500 feet. The distance to the end of the lot is around 800.

People walk that every day and don't think a thing about it. But, ask them to do it downtown and they blanch.

phillabuster 7 years, 4 months ago

Healthy young people may walk that every day, but what about my Dad who walks with a cane? There is no way he can walk two blocks to get to a store. Handicap parking? They will have to use too many spaces for handicap parking and that leaves even less. I don't know about you, but if it's a snow storm or a downpour, my desire to walk two blocks to get to a store I love, diminishes rapidly, and I run every day.

This will be the beginnings of a death march for the 800 block of Lawrence. City commissioners take heed. We are watching. Has the City Manager thought about what he is doing to destroy downtown Lawrence? Stop, look, and LISTEN to the merchants you are willing to put on the sacrificial altar.

Raiden 7 years, 4 months ago

There used to be a moratorium on structure height in Lawrence. An exception was made for Hobbs Taylor lofts (that still has numerous vacancies).....then for the Oread monstrosity and now another proposal. Did the city commission make a permanent change in this height limitation or can developers now count on the very contractor-friendly to grant them exceptions when requested. Exceptions aren't exceptions if they are ignored whenever a developer asks for one. I'm not anti-development, but I'm very concerned that our city commission seems all too happy to hand out permits without really looking at the long-term impact of these new proposals. These facilities that close to downtown will forever change the ambiance that contributes to Lawrence's recognition on top 10 places to live. Anyone checked to see if any of the commissioners have accounts in the Caymans?

true_patriot 7 years, 4 months ago

I really like the idea of building vertically downtown and including compensating covered public parking when there is a need. The idea itself is well thought out and would really be a decent proposal, IF THERE WAS A NEED.

Abe & Jakes is closing, many shops on Mass Street are up for lease, Hobbes Taylor lofts never did manage to make the bottom level work and now we've got the loss of more open space just north of the parking garage to add another slew of retail and office space to try to fill.

A sensible controlled growth policy would stop these willy-nilly taxpayer-aided spasms of random developer projects that begin to resemble a Monopoly game board mentality until we can make the already vacant spaces work. In so doing, we preserve the quaint character and the feel of pockets of open space downtown as much as possible while pragmatically charting an effective and attractive growth track for this cherished area that repeatedly receives national and even international notice for its look and feel.

jafs 7 years, 4 months ago

Sounds good to me.

Why not stop all taxpayer subsidized development, though?

I remember when businesses made decisions about where to locate based on such quaint old fashioned ideas as whether they could make a decent living there, and didn't demand tax abatements, TIFs, CIDs, or any such nonsense.

kansanbygrace 7 years, 4 months ago

or, option 2, allow the "developers" a price for their sketch and a few bucks commission, and the city retains ownership and the profit, for being the developer in fact. Add that income to the maintenance of downtown and to recruit new business to populate the current vacancies.

phillabuster 7 years, 4 months ago

Who is going to reimburse the businesses on the 800 block of Massachusetts for loss of income during a two year construction with no parking? Fritzel? The City? These businesses support Lawrence, belong to Downtown Lawrence Association, are members of Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, pay taxes, pay salaries, are helping keep downtown Lawrence alive.

Not just the loss of income during the construction, but future earnings from repeat customers. One business has customers that are 3rd generation. Who is going to make up that loss of income, of future income? Fritzel? The City of Lawrence? I may not be able to put a price on it, but I'm sure an attorney can.

stlcards515 7 years, 4 months ago

Why are people complaining about this? This is a great idea! Downtown Lawrence is mostly a commercial district. This will make it a livable area. The people who own businesses in the 800 block should be excited about this. PEOPLE WILL BE LIVING BEHIND YOU. During the construction people yes, you'll have less parking but who really gets good parking spots downtown? Especially in the 800 and 900 block. This is great news!

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