Archive for Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Town Talk: An Etsy-like retailer coming to downtown?; pedestrian mall talk; this and that about Lawrence’s engineering loss

May 24, 2011


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News and notes from around town:

• File this in the category of incomplete information, but interesting enough to pass along anyway. A new retailer is moving into the former Eye Doctors shop at 737 Mass. Commercial real estate broker Allison Vance Moore of the Lawrence office of Colliers International tells me the store will be called Made Shops. The concept apparently is to sell items — perhaps everything from clothing, accessories and who knows what else — that are made by local folks. I’ve had others tell me that it is sort of like Etsy — the popular online retail site where people sell their own creations. I’ve got a call into the new owner, and will report back when I hear more.

• While we’re on the subject of downtown, there was quite a bit of talk at last week’s city-sponsored downtown listening meeting about the idea of making Massachusetts Street — or at least part of it — a pedestrian mall. Fans of that idea shouldn’t get their hopes up. My sense is that this current commission would be more likely to pass a resolution declaring it Missouri Tiger Day than they would to vote to close Massachusetts Street. It seemed that more of the people suggesting the pedestrian mall ideas were shoppers of downtown rather than merchants. Several merchants said they were against it, and also noted that the idea did get some serious study decades ago. They said that examination suggested downtown would need to become more connected to all the density and traffic that exists on the KU campus before the pedestrian mall idea could work. One idea proposed then was a trolley that would run from downtown to KU, perhaps up 12th Street. That’s fun to think about.

An idea that may be a little more serious for the near-term, though, is the thought of making one of the side streets into a pedestrian mall. Eighth Street — especially the part between Massachusetts and New Hampshire — would be the most likely candidate. That street gets shut down more often than any other in downtown to host everything from music events to shot put competitions. Former Downtown Lawrence Inc. director Jane Pennington, who now is organizing arts events in the area, urged commissioners last week to think about the idea. She said it could provide Lawrence with a downtown venue that perhaps wouldn’t be a major impediment to traffic or parking. If she or others choose to really push that idea, it would be one worth watching at City Hall. It seems that there are three commissioners — Cromwell, Carter and Dever — who really like the vibrancy events bring to downtown. The other two — Amyx and Schumm — seem to like the events well enough but worry about the impact they have on traffic flow and other logistical issues that happen when events close down a major street. Perhaps having a venue on a lesser used side street would please both groups.

• Since we reported last week about EN Engineering’s decision to leave Lawrence for a site in Olathe, I have heard from a few folks in the real estate/development community. Probably the most interesting thing I heard is that people are disappointed the company couldn’t be convinced to expand its search in Lawrence to a wider geographical area. The company wanted to be on the east side — mainly somewhere east of Massachusetts and south of 15th Street — in order to give some of its Kansas City and other out-of-town employees — an easier commute into the city. (By the way, it seems that folks on the message board are under the impression that lots and lots of folks at the company live in Kansas City. I don’t think that is the case. The EN Engineering employee who tipped me off to all this indicated quite a few employees at the company were upset about the move to Olathe.) Anyway, I did have people in the real estate business note to me that there are at least two large office spaces available on the east side of town that have pretty easy access to Kansas City. One is the former Riverfront Mall (no, the person who mentioned it to me is not one of my bosses here at the J-W, who also is part of the ownership group of the mall). The other location is the I-70 Business Center — the former Tanger Mall — in North Lawrence. My understanding is that the company never gave much consideration to those sites, both of which are north, not south, of 15th Street.

What I also heard from developer types, is that the Schwadas — who own the building where the company is currently located — were being reasonable with the company. Now, that’s not a unanimous view. There are some who are mad at the Schwadas. But others said asking for a two-year lease was reasonable. First, they said one-year leases for office space aren’t common currently. Second, they said the Schwadas had to approach the situation from the standpoint of knowing that EN Engineering was not going to be a long-term tenant anymore. This comes after the Schwadas likely spent tens of thousands of dollars putting together a proposal to expand at their Delaware Street location that ultimately was rejected by the company. Third, they largely agreed with the Schwadas' assessment that a six-month or perhaps even a year extension of the lease would not be enough time for the company to get a building constructed and occupied in Lawrence. That means EN likely would be in a position of asking for another extension. From a landlord’s perspective, it is important to know with some certainty when a tenant will be out of your building. That gives you a much greater ability to market the building to future tenants. A two-year lease would have given the Schwadas that certainty.

Anyway, that was the view of some people in the development/real estate community. As I said, others felt the Schwadas could have done more. Take it all for whatever you think it is worth.


Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

"the idea of making Massachusetts Street — or at least part of it — a pedestrian mall."

That would be a very fine idea! How many readers of this column have been to the Pearl Street Mall in downtown Boulder, Colorado? It is swamped with shopppers just about all the time!

Well, maybe that is not a valid comparison, because Boulder is a far more progressive community than Lawrence.

Bob Forer 7 years ago

How many of you have been to the former pedestrian malls in Coffeyville and Parsons. Those monstrosities killed downtown retail in those two cities.

matchbox81 7 years ago

The pearl street area of Boulder seems to have higher densities both along the mall, and in the area immediately surrounding it, than Lawrence's downtown. I think the average building height in downtown Lawrence woulld have to incerase by 2 or 3 stories.

Besides, for every example of Pearl Street, there's 10 examples like Atchinson, which created a pedestrian mall and effectively choked off their downtown. On street parking, and cars cruising up and down Mass. Street, create it's own form of energy. Don't create a pedestrian mall anywhere in downtown, just make it easier to close off a specific street in downtown for special events. Seems to work now, and most merchants don't get too nervous.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

Boulder's situation is different from Lawrence's-- it's a larger city with a much larger tourist draw. And the retail situation in Atchison would probably be much the same even if the mall hadn't been built-- it would have been killed by shopping malls in larger towns and Wal-Mart.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

Regardless of whether the Schwadas were justified in their dealings, the city should not be in the business of subsidizing landlords without a very specific policy in place-- a policy that includes an equally specific cost-benefit analysis.

Richard Payton 7 years ago

These shoppers suggesting the pedestrian mall spend on average $5.00 a week or $150.00 a week? How many shoppers are suggesting this 5 or 1,000. Rather vague statics or none at all for the reader.

Cait McKnelly 7 years ago

As a disabled person unable to walk more than short distances who fights for disabled parking now, tell me how having a pedestrian mall is going to make it easier for me to shop downtown. Please.

gccs14r 7 years ago

If they build the street up to the level of the sidewalks and have a trolley that can squat down for wheelchair access, it could be easier for you to shop. Park in the garage, roll over to the elevator, ride down to the trolley stop, roll onto the trolley, then roll off anywhere along NH or Mass to shop. 'course if they leave the cross streets open to parking, the spots closest to Mass could be reserved for handicapped access, too. Then you would need to traverse only a short distance from the intersection to the middle of the street to hop the trolley.

John Hamm 7 years ago

Did the goofballs who run this city and it's businesses not learn from the "Pedestrian Mall" KCkS tried years ago which lead to the DEATH of downtown Kansas City KS? Obviously NOT!

infidel 7 years ago

i wonder if the Etsy type store will draw a ? A site devoted to making fun of most of the crap on Etsy

pagan_idolator 7 years ago

Never heard of that site until I read this post. OMG - spent several hours there last night. Too funny.

BigPrune 7 years ago

Wow, I just can't figure out why there are vacancies downtown.

roadwarrior 7 years ago

Boulder Mall is unique with tourism business but parking in the block you wanted to shop in was fairly simple too.... such as our idea for closing the short section of 8th St. In Boulder, those pea gravel pits with Boulders to climb on was a big hit with the kids. Kids would play while parents alternated shopping. They tended to be real rallying points while giving the kids something to do outside.

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