Archive for Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ninth and Vermont development proposal gets reserved reaction from Lawrence city commissioners

January 12, 2011


Let’s talk, downtown Lawrence.

City commissioners said Tuesday they’re interested in at least having a conversation about a proposal to construct a five-story building on a prominent public parking lot in the center of downtown.

“These are the types of projects that have the potential to make downtown better,” Commissioner Lance Johnson said. “People living downtown and working downtown are how you fill the stores downtown.”

But such projects also are the type that create lots of questions. That’s why commissioners said before they talk about the project in any detail, they want Lawrence architect Paul Werner — who is proposing the project — to have an open meeting with downtown property owners who would be impacted.

As reported last week, Werner — and to a lesser degree, Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel — have been working on concept plans for a five-story building that would be built on the city-owned parking lot on the east side of the 800 block of Vermont Street. 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 portion of the building near Ninth and Vermont also would have 15,000 square feet that developers ideally want to fill with a grocery store.

The project would include anywhere from three to three-and-half levels of covered parking. Werner is guaranteeing the city would have at least 159 public parking spaces — the same amount that exists in the current lot — as part of the project. Plans call for about another 200 spaces as part of the project, reserved for apartments, offices and other users.

Some city commissioners indicated some of those details will need to be tweaked in the future.

“I think we’re definitely going to want to see a better return on our parking investment,” City Commissioner Aron Cromwell said. Cromwell also said the idea of securing a grocery tenant for the project also was critical.

“If you changed that from a grocery store into a Walgreens, I don’t think it would have the same amount of appeal,” he said.

The project isn’t appealing to everybody currently. Dan Ranjbar, a Lawrence orthodontist who also owns retail property in the 800 block of Massachusetts, said he is concerned the new project won’t be as accommodating to motorists who currently use the city parking lot.

“The reason for doing this development is unclear to me,” Ranjbar said. “Bringing more housing downtown might be one reason, but I think there are other places you can do that.”

Werner, though, said he looked forward to meeting with downtown merchants and property owners in the near future.

“I still believe that when they think about the number of people who would be living so close to their business, they will see the benefits,” Werner said.

Before the project moves along too far, the city will have to decide whether it wants to hear from other developers on the matter. Lawrence businessman Doug Compton sent a letter to commissioners asking that other companies be allowed to submit a proposal for the property, if the city is interested in changing its current use.

Commissioners stopped short of committing to that, but Mayor Mike Amyx said he wanted staff to thoroughly review any legal requirements the city may have in regards to opening up the property for development.

“I think that’s an item that will be brought back up again,” Amyx said. “I think we’ll need to work at this a little bit slowly.”

Other action

In other news, commissioners:

• Asked members of Treanor Architects to meet with property owners near 10th and Vermont streets before moving ahead with plans to build new corporate headquarters for the architecture firm. The company is proposing to renovate and add onto the former Strong’s Office Supply store at 1040 Vt. As part of the project, the developers are seeking tax rebates through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act. But commissioners said before they started debating that aspect of the project, they wanted to ensure neighbors were comfortable with possible changes to the city-owned parking lot.

• Agreed to a resolution supporting an application for state tax credits to renovate the Poehler building at 619 E. Eighth St. Kansas City-area developer Tony Krsnich is proposing to put about 40 apartments in the top three floors of the old grocery warehouse building. He’s seeking state tax credits that would designate the project as affordable housing, and would hold rents to between $500 and $600 a month for one and two-bedroom units.

• Approved a new policy regarding city overtime. Commissioners approved the changes on a 4-1 vote, with Amyx opposed. The changes eliminate practices that allowed some city employees to be paid overtime even if they did not work 40 hours in a week.


HalsteadHawk 7 years, 2 months ago

“If you changed that from a grocery store into a Walgreens, I don’t think it would have the same amount of appeal,”

Have you been in a Walgreens? They have groceries in there.

pizzapete 7 years, 2 months ago

Let's get a Quick Trip downtown, think of all the jobs and people it would bring.

ralphralph 7 years, 2 months ago

Video technicians, crime scene analysts, ...

JustNoticed 7 years, 2 months ago

"Commissioner Lance Johnson said. 'People living downtown and working downtown are how you fill the stores downtown.'" Says who? Do you want us to just take this on faith? Based on experience I believe that you (developers/Johnson et al) will get something approved and then it will change. "Grocery store downtown" is exactly the kind of thing you'd propose to sell the plan knowing you won't find a tenant. And there will be other changes that you'll forget to mention, just like the towers on top of that hideous Oread hotel. This might be a good thing for downtown, even without a grocery store, but I just don't believe anything you say. And now Compton, completely incapable of telling the truth, wants in. You guys just don't have any credibility.

jafs 7 years, 2 months ago


Any and all development should be held to precisely what was approved - there are no valid reasons for changing things after that point, and if they want to do that, they should have to go through the approval process again.

ralphralph 7 years, 2 months ago

but I just don't believe anything you say. :-)

Scott Bonnet 7 years, 2 months ago

The Oread is a beautiful project and a great addition to the city. City planning research has consistently shown that a permanent downtown population is one key to a vibrant downtown economy. One need only examine thriving downtown communities around the country in order see the principle at work.

billastrilla 7 years, 2 months ago

The building is an eye sore and the "poles" on top take away from the presence of Fraser Hall. The fake stone veneer is probably the worst choice in cladding as a building of that magnitude would have never been composed of that material. This city should take more advice from its school of architecture.

BruceWayne 7 years, 2 months ago

I am a little confused...was the city wanting to do something with this parking lot? Was this just a matter of Werner and Fritzel wanting more,more,more? So if I am walking by a city park and I think apartments should be built there can I just draw up a few plans and take them to the city? What is going on here is a p@##ing contest between Drug Compton and Fritzel, nothing more. I cannot wait until the next election.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 2 months ago

It's more likely that it'd be a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's than another Merc.

ralphralph 7 years, 2 months ago

You can't have a Trader Joe's because Kansas has liquor laws that predate the sacking of Lawrence. If Kansans were allowed to buy a loaf of bread AND a bottle of wine in the SAME STORE, the Earth would swallow us up.

Hey, Gov'nur Sam! Wanna do some pro-Growth Eco-Devo? Then, let's update our liquor laws to be at least on a par with far-out, crazy places like ... Omaha.

Marcus DeMond 7 years, 2 months ago

Leawood, KS is getting a Trader Joes but everyone is going to go to the Ward Parkway location is Missouri so they can get $3 bottles of wine. Kansas liquor laws are outdated...

ralphralph 7 years, 2 months ago

People in Leawood are not sufficiently sophisticated or intelligent enough to make their own decisions, and they must be able to buy their bread and their wine in different stores. It's for their own good.

tonytman 7 years, 2 months ago

Before Doug Compton gets involed we need to know that he has resolved his issues in topeka we dont need that happining here

irvan moore 7 years, 2 months ago

save downtown (and the rest of Lawrence), vote this commission out!

Keith 7 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, well check the campaign finance reports from the currently announced candidates, you'll see the development community is heavily invested already.

CHKNLTL 7 years, 2 months ago

In a town of only 28 square miles and a population of only 92,000, we need a grocery store at 8th and Vermont.....because 4 Dillons (one at 19th and Mass), a Merc (9th and Iowa), a Checkers, Walmart supercenter, Aldi, and 2 HyVees....along with multiple little specialty stores is not enough? No that's not why. And nevermind the fact that these guys want to take a parking lot and create the same parking lot but with a cheap building on top of it that will probably have structural problems from their watered-down cement project. Where will those 159 spaces be during the project's construction? I'd like to know who on the commission is getting pocket lining from these jokers to keep approving needless expansion in a shrinking-retail town. Nobody is going to shop anywhere soon if there isn't some employment to go around! Where's our jobs Commissioners?!

ksriver2010 7 years, 2 months ago

Leave that parking lot alone! Adding a five story building there would change the character of downtown, including Mass Street.

pizzapete 7 years, 2 months ago

Agreed. Do we really need more apartments in Lawrence?

sciencegeek 7 years, 2 months ago

Exactly! A five-story building would ruin downtown! God forbid that Mass Street shouldn't like every other contemporary mishmash in the country!

There is nothing in this for anyone but the developers. They don't care what happens to the city; they just want to make their money and run. Period. Just because a developer asks for something doesn't mean the city must, or should, do their bidding. Remember---a developr is only in it FOR HIMSELF!!!

Bob Forer 7 years, 2 months ago

Pedal Hopper Taxi (Sung to the tune of Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell)

They dug up some asphalt To put in an underground lot With a supermarket and condos And a few swinging hot spots on top. Don't it always seem to go That you don't know what you've got Till it's underground They dug up a parking lot To put up a parking lot

They took 159 spaces Put 'em in underground places And they charged the people An extra percent just to park and shop Don't it always seem to go That you don't know what you've got Till it's underground They dug up a parking lot To put up a parking lot

Hey Farmer’s Market Get your Ass out of Town Now Give me Perfect Red Apples with DDT From a High Tech Hy-Vee Please! Don't it always seem to go That you don't know what you've got Til it's underground They dug up a parking lot To put up a parking lot

Bob Forer 7 years, 2 months ago

Late last night I heard designer beer being slammed And a pedal hopper taxi Took away my old man Don't it always seem to go That you don't know what you've got Til it's underground They dug up a parking lot To put up a parking lot

I said don't it always seem to go That you don't know what you've got Til it's underground They dug up a parking lot To put up a parking lot

They dug up a parking lot To put up a parking lot

They dug up a parking lot To put up a parking lot

coderob 7 years, 2 months ago

“I think we’re definitely going to want to see a better return on our parking investment,” City Commissioner Aron Cromwell said.

Cromwell needs a lesson in public finance. Deciding about projects based on the return on investment is a great way of making decisions in the private sector since you're primary concern is with staying in business and making a profit. Cities are fundamentally different from businesses. They don't need to make profits. They need to break even. Make your decisions based off of cost benefit analysis instead. It can often be pretty difficult to pass cost benefit analysis and will definitely keep the city from throwing money away, saving us boatloads of heartache in years to come.

ralphralph 7 years, 2 months ago

Duck season! Wabbit season! Parkin'wot season!

Boston_Corbett 7 years, 2 months ago

Did anyone discuss the use of Tax Increment Financing last night?

TIF's are supposedly reserved for "blighted property" Is the city owned parking lot "blighted?"

Shouldn't the owner of a new building in downtown Lawrence be required to pay property taxes like all the other existing owners?

he_who_knows_all 7 years, 2 months ago

How big will the cell phone towers be on this building?

Vinny1 7 years, 2 months ago

Do some of you guys not understand that Lawrence is a growing city? When your city is growing you are going to build new buildings. A major point in Lawrence has been to keep downtown alive and not become a "strip mall city". Well, building downtown is necessary if you want to keep it alive.

Go ahead and force this project elsewhere, and the next, and the next. And watch downtown mass st. die out.

sciencegeek 7 years, 2 months ago

You want more building downtown? Fine--just don't make it a five-story monstrosity that sticks out like a sore thumb. You'd think Lawrence would have learned about that by now.

Or do we just want to balance out those lovely antennas down the street?

CHKNLTL 7 years, 2 months ago

There is already an abundance of vacant rental space, commercial and housing. Remember River Front Mall? That was supposed to be a big downtown draw. And look what they did with it.... If downtown dies, it is because from door to door, shop to shop, everything inside is the same, same, same. A brand new building would alter property values around it adversely, driving up consumer costs to cover higher taxes at neighboring retailers. How would that help grow commerce?

nobody1793 7 years, 2 months ago

“People living downtown and working downtown are how you fill the stores downtown.” -- No, having stores that sell things people want to buy at competitive prices are how you fill the stores downtown. I can't think of one store downtown where I buy something more than once a year.

Here's an idea...if you want to find a place for a downtown/north Lawrence grocery store, tear down city hall and build it there. Do everyone a favor.

ralphralph 7 years, 2 months ago

Buy something once or twice a year? I can think of several stores where we buy more often than that ... Weaver's, Gary Gribbles', The Toy Store, Sunflower, etc., ... and the common thread, I think, is that they sell decent quality stuff and provide service, generally by people who know a little (or more) about the things they are selling. I suppose there is something to the fact that the things we buy there are ones where the purchase benefits from some guidance or advice of some sort on the part of the seller. I don't need help picking out the best 128-pack of Pop-Tarts or 9-lb box of detergent, so those things will probably be bought wherever they are cheapest. But for a suit that fits, running shoes that won't blister, a cool toy for a kid, or some hiking gear, I think I'd pay a little more to get something that works and lasts, and that is what brings me downtown, shopping-wise. What would bring me downtown more, entertainment-wise, is LIVE stuff. Music, performances, arts ... my goodness, this town is loaded with talent we too rarely see. Let's work to put it on display.

That's my downtown answer: Retail that involves quality and service, plus live arts. You're welcome.

friendlyjhawk 7 years, 2 months ago

The talent that Lawrence is loaded with also likes to make a decent wage and that doesn't get paid for musicians here in town. Oh, sure, if they would volunteer their time everyone would flock to see them. Music is a business too. Wages should be appropriate for the service provided.

coderob 7 years, 2 months ago

Boston_Corbett, let's not give them any ideas on using TIF for this one. One of Lawrence's big strengths is its education system. In addition to locking in tax rates for 20 or so years, it funnels all of the tax money from the TIF district into infrastructure spending, meaning that those tax dollars cannot be used for schools.

And you're right. TIFs are used for blighted areas, or in other words areas that wouldn't otherwise receive investment. You'd have to make some creative arguments to say that a corner with Weaver's, Wheatfields, a bank, and the city's central bus stop wouldn't receive investment without a TIF district.

But on another point, having a grocery store at that corner would make a lot of sense. I know the T isn't very popular but the people that do use it might as well get some grocery shopping while waiting for a transfer.

Boston_Corbett 7 years, 2 months ago

Not give them any ideas?

The use of TIF funding has been specifically requested by the developers/architect in this project.

And you saw what happened up at the hotel, when a TIF funded garage turned into a city-financed but privately owned bar by the same people.... hardly the use anticipated by the TIF law.

jafs 7 years, 2 months ago

How did that change happen? I didn't even hear about it.

coderob 7 years, 2 months ago

Oh no. That is horrible. There's just this culture out there that sees TIF as a magic wand. The fact alone that the developers are asking for TIF proves it shouldn't be used.

Lawrence City Council: TIF is for areas that couldn't get investment alone! If the developer asks for TIF, then they're already pretty keen on investing!

At this rate we might as well designate the entire city as a TIF district and give up on any spending outside of infrastructure.

Jacks_Smirking_Revenge 7 years, 2 months ago

I'm all for development of Lawrence. But this seems a bit much. (I think Compton Towers at 9th and NH are unnecessary but hey...) I just imagine Fritzel and Compton doing the duet "Anything you can do." "Anything you can build, I can build better. Anything you can build I can build better than you. No you can't. Yes I can..."

It's a development arms race and the loser is Lawrence.

educatedintheusa 7 years, 2 months ago

The Lawrence downtown area has community attributes which can be enhanced by allowing for a positive dialogue with professionals who are able to design and meld. A pedestrian and family friendly downtown can be created by closing off portions of Mass. Street, building parking garages and adding two missing vital ingredients to retail - the grocery store and the pharmacy.

People would have even more practical and fun reason to be downtown then the already fun and practical pool, library, post office, Opera House, parks, courthouse, restaurants, specialty shops, professional offices, banks, bars and music venues.

In the summer, after enjoying the pool or library and without fear of traffic, parents could more comfortably stroll along a closed off Mass. Street and enjoy an activity of a meal or treats with their children. In the winter, artists and bakers could sell their wares and good at a Christmas market set up on an open mall running down the closed off portions of Mass.

lawrence_native_too 7 years, 2 months ago

This is exactly right.

Downtown has so much to offer but its really congested with cars. The cars make it very difficult for families, friends, and especially kids to walk around without having to be very careful. If Mass St. from 7th to 9th were bricked over to make a pedestrian walkway, downtown would be vastly improved and truly outstanding. 7th and 9th should still stay open, of course. 8th could even stay open, but it would be better to close it off and allow the walking mall to extent all the way between Vermont and New Hampshire on 8th.Think of the possibilities, and how excellent it would be to be down there.

Anyone who has visited cities such as Boulder, Montreal, etc., have experienced what a great atmosphere is created for people and businesses. People can walk, talk, and relax without a crush of cars constantly speeding by. This would make Lawrence truly unique in this region and bring people once again to downtown. Many people in West Lawrence simply do not come downtown anymore because it is so congested (just ask them).

If we want a vibrant downtown that will bring people in (other than for restaurants and bars), we need to do this (and soon).

Concurrently, parking space lost will need replacement and more added. Going vertical in single story lots downtown now is obviously the answer.

My $0.02. I vote: "Let's do it!"

jafs 7 years, 2 months ago

There are also places in which no-car pedestrian downtowns haven't worked.

To me, it's kind of 6 of one, 1/2 dozen of the other.

lawrencenerd 7 years, 2 months ago

I doubt that most people that work downtown make enough money to be able to live in one of the proposed apartments.

Clark Coan 7 years, 2 months ago

Why should a developer get free prime land? Okay, make a firm promise for a grocery store and then pay 80% of fair market rent for the land to the City. That sounds fair.

JustNoticed 7 years, 2 months ago

"a firm promise" ???? My god, pay attention. That's what they do all the time. But they speak another language where "firm promise" means something like, "I promise to do A, B and/or C (unless, of course, it just doesn't pencil out, then I just won't be able to do that but, hey, you know ... sorry, sucker.)"

coderob 7 years, 2 months ago

I'd say bricking Mass over is only viable if restaurants continue taking over the retail space. With motorists being able to haul more in their cars, they tend to buy more. Taking away that option only makes them buy less.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 2 months ago

What's missing as always is:

  1. How much might this cost taxpayers? How about if Mass street merchants give the green light we sell the lot for about $15 million.

  2. How much lost revenue will be dealt to existing Mass Street business operators?

  3. Can Lawrence absorb these new living quarters plus the ones going up at 9th and New Hampshire? There are tons of vacancies all over town.

  4. Would it be good for business in general? That depends on what demographic these living quarters are targeting. Where are the tenants?

  5. Is there sufficient retail dollars to support a small grocery store in the downtown?

  6. Will property taxes be paid from day one of breaking ground till the end of time?

There are a lot of blanks after last night that need to be filled in.

I say build a greenhouse enclosed adults only swimming pool above the parking lot. Kinda like creating a Rainforest in downtown Lawrence. No alcohol! Just coffee/Latte,organic fruits,juices and salads,ice cream and smoothies served with fresh baked goods from local bakeries.

The idea did sound interesting however it seems to be sparking a turf battle between developers. I do not understand the need for big government tax dollar handouts like rebates and free city property. Taxpayers cannot afford to wind up with a dinosaur at 9th&Vermont.

Why not reveal the would be tenants so taxpayers would have a little substance to work with. We must remember the residential market is in the tank with no clue when a bounce back will occur. Empty bedrooms cost taxpayers money.

JackMcKee 7 years, 2 months ago

Merrill has a point. What is the vacancy rate of existing apartments? How does Lawrence compare to other college towns in terms of number of renters?

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