The recent announcement that the Mars candy company would build a $250 million manufacturing plant in Topeka has drawn attention again to the scarcity of large industrial sites in and around Lawrence.
On the heels of that announcement, Lawrence city commissioners have taken the positive step of asking the Douglas County Commission to review a request for the city to annex a 67-acre site near the Kansas Turnpike’s Lecompton interchange. County Commission review is required before the city can proceed with annexing the property.
The 67-acre site is adjacent to two other sites already zoned for industrial use with some restrictions. Although various issues concerning the extension of city services to those sites must be resolved, they at least provide some bigger acreage that can be marketed to prospective businesses.
Their proximity to the Kansas Turnpike also is a huge asset. Easy access to a four-lane interstate highway was one of the base requirements for the Mars project, according to local economic development officials. The company also was looking for a site of at least 80 to 150 acres with infrastructure in place. The only site Lawrence offered for consideration was an 87-acre site just east of the East Hill Business Park. However, flooding concerns would have had to be addressed at that site, and its location near Kansas Highway 10 didn’t fill the desire for interstate highway access.
Of course, Topeka also reportedly offered a $9 million incentive package to the Mars company using revenue from a special local sales tax to fund economic development. That’s a figure Lawrence isn’t likely to match any time soon.
Nonetheless, even to get in the ball game Lawrence must have sites available that match the basic size and access requirements of potential new business. Moving forward on the annexation request helps expand the site options that local economic development officials can market.
The city-county planning staff indicated in a report to city commissioners this week that the annexation request is supported by various key planning documents. Seeking the County Commission’s review is just a first step, but a positive one toward boosting the city’s marketability to potential new businesses.