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Archive for Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Town Talk: A boardwalk-like development along the Kaw gaining steam in North Lawrence; city’s retail vacancy rate lower than K.C.’s; a meeting for public farmers

November 23, 2011

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• Aloha, which of course is Hawaiian for “I’ll stay up watching basketball until the wee hours and nap at work.” (Hawaiian is a very efficient language.)

Well, it may not exactly be a beach on Maui, but a plan to create a waterfront-like feel in North Lawrence is alive and well. What would you think of an 1,800-foot boardwalk that runs alongside the top of the Kansas River levee and connects to a new Johnny’s Tavern and other shopping and dining options?

If you remember back to 2008 (if you do, you probably haven’t been to Johnny’s enough) we reported on an idea to convert the area near Johnny’s Tavern in North Lawrence into a new commercial area that would have views of the adjacent Kansas River. That idea recently received a boost from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and now the development group is seeking the first of many approvals that will be needed from Lawrence City Hall.

The group has a concept plan that calls for a 66,000-square-foot hotel, a 50,000-square-foot movie theater, a 27,000-square-foot sporting goods store, a new Johnny’s Tavern, at least two other restaurants or a microbrewery, more than a dozen other miscellaneous retailers, and possibly some offices and condos. The majority of buildings would be built up high and have views of the river. In total, there would be about 220,000 square feet of new commercial space. The project would be on about 18 acres that would include everything between the Kansas River levee, North Second Street and Lyon Street. That includes a trailer park, which ultimately would have to be removed to make way for the development.

Before anyone will have to pack up and move, though, there is a long road ahead of the project at City Hall. And the first step is to actually have that section of North Lawrence declared an extension of Downtown Lawrence. By officially declaring the area part of downtown, the developers can use a special downtown zoning category that allows for taller buildings and smaller setbacks. The downtown zoning also greatly reduces the amount of private parking a project must provide. In most cases, a commercial development in downtown doesn’t have to provide any. Paul Werner, a Lawrence architect who is designing the project, told me the developers want to have some flexibility on parking, but they certainly understand they’ll have to build significant amounts of parking to make the project successful. One concept plan, Werner said, includes a parking garage for the site. But the developers also are counting on the idea that some people will park in Downtown Lawrence, do some shopping on the south side of the river and then walk across the Kansas River bridge to their development.

“We really do want to be an extension of downtown,” Werner said.

The downtown zoning also would prohibit any type of bar-only development. Any new drinking establishments in Downtown Lawrence must be connected with a restaurant use, and Werner said the group is fine with that requirement.

“This won’t be an Aggieville,” Werner said. “The owners truly do love the idea of having a mix of uses in the area.”

The group also is seeking to have at least one exception to the downtown zoning, which would allow for large buildings that have a footprint of more than 25,000 square feet. That would allow for the area to have some bigger box development that isn’t allowed in downtown proper. As I noted, the concept plan includes 27,000-square-foot space for a sporting goods store. Can anyone say Dick’s Sporting Goods? Werner said the development certainly would love to have them, but no deals have been reached with any tenants.

Success with potential tenants, of course, will be what determines whether this idea is just a pretty plan on paper or whether it turns into a real project. But the group has some businessmen who've had some success in making projects happen. The group includes: Rick Renfro and his partners in the Johnny’s Tavern empire; Lawrence businessman Jon Davis, who has owned a host of commercial properties around Lawrence; and Christian Ablah, an area deal-maker who led efforts to develop the Home Depot and Best Buy area at 31st and Iowa streets.

The group probably needs the economy to turn at the right time for the project to become reality, but it will be interesting to see how much excitement the project generates. I was telling my wife about it, and she said it sounded kind of like Lawrence’s version of a mini-Branson Landing, which is a commercial area along the shores of Lake Taneycomo in downtown Branson. She then got a warm and fuzzy glow about her, and went and snuggled with her credit cards.

• File this in the take-it-for-whatever-you-think-it-is-worth category. (Yes, there was a sale on hyphens at the grammar store.) There’s a new study out that estimates Lawrence’s retail vacancy rate is 7 percent. That is compared to a 14 percent vacancy rate for the Kansas City metro area, and a 10 percent rate nationally. The information comes from an area consultant who was hired by the North Lawrence development group to complete a city-mandated market study. That is also the same number that city staff members found when it produced a retail market study for 2010. City staff members, though, did find this summer that vacant square footage in downtown had risen to about 13 percent when there were several empty store fronts along Massachusetts Street. I do find vacancy rate data interesting because City Hall leaders are frequently told by some neighborhood advocates that the city has more retail space than it can support based on its income levels. But if Lawrence has a vacancy rate that is half of neighboring Kansas City and less than the national average, that argument seems harder to make. Or maybe not. We’re good at arguing.

• So, the grocery bill has you wanting to be a farmer these days? If you want to do a little farming on city or county owned property — or even a lot of farming — there’s a meeting you need to be at next week. The city and county will host an informational meeting about its new Common Ground program. As we previously reported, the project will open up 14 sites of publicly owned ground to farmers who want to do everything from create a community garden to running a commercial growing operation. The meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. on Monday at City Hall.

• Town Talk will be off tomorrow, hopefully swimming in a bowl of turkey gravy. Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

Comments

littlexav 3 years, 1 month ago

No one, and I mean no one is going to walk from downtown north of the river. And the road just north of the bridge needs some serious improvement if they want this thing to have any measure of success. It's currently a deathtrap, and it doesn't help that Johnny's is right there issuing a steady outpouring of "I'm fine to drive" drivers.

ilovelucy 3 years, 1 month ago

I love this idea and really hope that they don't have any major roadblocks (haha). The KS River is such a beautiful area. It could be a great infusion to north Lawrence. Good luck to Rick and the businessmen!

Lawrence Morgan 3 years, 1 month ago

I agree. The bridge is in no way a walk across bridge for most people. To my mind, the whole project seems destined to oblivion. It sounds to me like some crazy real estate scheme to make money. Have any of these people, behind the project, attempted to walk across the bridge, especially in the winter time but in the summer time as well?

jesse499 3 years, 1 month ago

Why do you think they made the insection at Locust so good it was the begaining of this without telling the public what it was all about. Do you really think it was about getting the hole fixed for the people of North Lawrence.

flyin_squirrel 3 years, 1 month ago

If Lawrence wants downtown to grow and be successful, this development is a step in the right direction. Getting more people living, working, staying and shopping downtown will only help all the businesses succeed.

somebodynew 3 years, 1 month ago

I do like this idea, but agree that the 'walk' across the bridge is a stretch. Sounds more to me like developers trying to find a way to not build enough parking. Overall though a pretty good idea, and it should slow down the North Lawrence people from whinning that they are always left out. :-) just kidding

LogicMan 3 years, 1 month ago

Not that I'd frequent it, but including a small casino should help make the project more viable from the get-go. It would need to have a unique theme that ties in with the local community, like HD motorcycles, college sports, or so on.

Betty Bartholomew 3 years, 1 month ago

I'm in support of almost any plan that would get another major movie theatre back in town, especially if it would have more legroom than the Hollywood.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 1 month ago

Any chance a grocery store could be included in this project? It seems that's something N. Lawrence has needed for some time.

gatekeeper 3 years, 1 month ago

They won't give us a grocery store. I've said this before, but I had the past city manager tell me that the city doesn't care about N. Lawrence. I love my neighborhood, but wish I hadn't bought my house once realizing the city won't do what's needed for us Sandrats. And, they will take away the only leash-free dog park in Lawrence (all that area they want to claim) to build all these shops. Lots of us use the dog park.

We've been waiting for them to repave the detour route used when they redid the intersection by Johnny's since they finished that project. It's been over a year and they still haven't fixed the streets. Said they would do it this spring. Hmmm, still not done and nothing but potholes. Fix what needs to be fixed for the residents of N. Lawrence before trying to build new stuff!

I don't think those behind this project have been up to the river on a really hot day and smelled how nasty it is.

The riverfront mall failed. Tanger failed. Why would this project be any different?

Lisa Rasor 3 years, 1 month ago

Because outlet malls were a fad that could not be sustained over the long haul. I don't think you can compare the proposed development with the outlet malls. Different concepts.

I see plenty of people walking across the bridge now, to get to the levee to walk/run. It's not a preposterous idea.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 1 month ago

Walking/running across the bridge in order to run/walk is very different from doing so in order to shop.

Bob Forer 3 years, 1 month ago

I like the idea with a few caveats:

1) Agree with other posters on the :" walk across the bridge idea."' Don't see that happening. 2) If the developers are trying to avoid building much parking, then parking spaces will be left for the taxpayers to provide. How much money are we looking at?
3) Other than perhaps providing some infrastructure reasonably commensurate with the return in tax dollars, NO TAXPAYER WELFARE. If the project cannot be privately self-sufficient, then it shouldn't be built.

copyright 3 years, 1 month ago

Locust St. currently has become a vibrant and localized Antiques Row, thanks to five or six different hardworking shops/owners from the 500 through 700 blocks. I appreciate the ability to visit them easily, and I am for almost anything that would help all of of those small businesses (and restaurants) generate more retail traffic in the area. I enjoy the river and the trains and the historical feel of the small churches, not to mention the beauty of the elementary school.

I do fear, however, the manner in which the development could be designed/developed/funded. If not thought out well--and if pushed through with little public input--could be another towering Lawrence mess vs. an attractive part of the river area and the city as a whole.

pace 3 years, 1 month ago

I like the idea of a river plaza there. Wish them the best of luck. I wish we had a mini bus that would run along Mass, New Hampshire and Vermont, and across the river to the new N Lawrence river plaza. Given my desire for a mini bus route, I admit both my husband and daughter would walk across that bridge in a minute. Those crazy pedestrians.

lunacydetector 3 years, 1 month ago

they need a gondola to take people from downtown lawrence's new parking garage by the new library to north of the river. they could also run another cable system up to campus. that in itself might draw people to lawrence.

pace 3 years, 1 month ago

Jumping the dam might be hard, Maybe trained mutant giant salmon?

pace 3 years, 1 month ago

Sorry, misunderstood. I think an aerial gondola sounds great.

pace 3 years, 1 month ago

Sorry, misunderstood. I think an aerial gondola sounds great.

dipweed 3 years, 1 month ago

These are the same people that always look for the closest parking spot in front of the gym. Oh the irony!

jhawkinsf 3 years, 1 month ago

My favorite irony is the bumper sticker that says "No Blood For Oil".

Megan Green Stuke 3 years, 1 month ago

I love it. Here's hoping it's not a bunch of chain stores.

Some sort of cool little trolley/gondola transport would be neat but not totally necessary. I think if you build it they will come.

GO NORTH LAWRENCE!

irvan moore 3 years, 1 month ago

maybe the city could buy the old riverfront mall, that's the logical no brainer decision for something along the river, think of the services the city could have located there, think of all that parking, think about how it obviously wont fit into the plans of the current city commission.

orbiter 3 years, 1 month ago

Jeez, who are all you people that think "no one" will walk across the bridge? Are you all like 2inches tall or something? Not to be racist, but I don't think we should plan our cities around the concerns of tiny minority of such diminutive humans.

Dan Blomgren 3 years, 1 month ago

Can't see it happening for several reasons. First, the Kansas river will always act as an obstacle that will keep North Lawrence as a separate part of downtown. The two will never feel like a cohesive market. Second, the Kansas river is not that pretty for viewing. It moves too slow and is way too muddy. Sure it's a river, but an ugly one. Third, not enough people. Lawrence's growth is non existent. We are a stagnant community. And the developers want to add at minimum 150,000 sq ft of additional retail/hotel/restaurant. Who do they plan on supporting this? Talk to ANY existing retailer downtown and they will all tell you the consumer 'pie' is cut way too thin as it is. I can't see Dick's or any other big box coming to Lawrence. We just don't have the people. Fourth, the 'charm' of downtown Lawrence is in its historic architecture and its small independent store owners. The new development will have neither of these attributes. It will obviously consist of new construction with big box names if the developers are lucky enough to attract them with big promises. The Riverfront Mall failed with far fewer obstacles. Within 10 years of construction we will be looking at another Outlet Mall. Empty, desolate, and full of empty promises. If they want to risk their own money, then I say "go for it". I pray our elected commissioners don't gamble with my money. Risk/Reward to the developers! Good luck with your money!! I hope you prove me wrong. And if you do, I hope you get filthy rich off the deal. You will have earned it.

konzahawk 3 years, 1 month ago

I wish they would get rid of that god-awful grain elevator in North Lawrence. Is it even functioning? What a terrible gateway to Lawrence and it is right next to the Visitor's Center. At least, slap a coat of paint on it or do something to spruce it up. Lawrence is supposed to be the "City of Arts'. The elevator is one huge canvas. Also, we had no problem with crossing the bridge during the 2008 Final Four.

bearded_gnome 3 years, 1 month ago

yes it is still functioning.

apparently you and your previous generations have lived distant from the farm source of your food too long.

and please note: prettifying it up for you won't make them one more cent of profit.

it is still, after all, private property in a functioning market economy, at least until the socialists nationalize that too.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 1 month ago

I say donate the grain elevators to Dave Lowenstein and let's get on with some new murals.

The retail concept sounds like a tax dollar money hole that will never pay back. I hear there is a large tax dollar return on money losing projects.

flyin_squirrel 3 years, 1 month ago

Wow, merrill is against a development...

And the best part is Merrill says that sprawl is costing the tax payers more in utility/road costs. Now a development wants to infill next to downtown, and he is against it as well. Way to keep up your consistency Merrill!

Eugehne Normandin 3 years, 1 month ago

All you non bridge walking grain elevator haters need to stay downtown I think trolls live under the bridge so beware.

snitty 3 years, 1 month ago

The biggest problem would be a traffic bottleneck because the only access is right at the intersection of Locust and N. 2nd.

copyright 3 years, 1 month ago

Ah, yes. The ugly grain elevators (standing longer than many of us have been alive) should have scenes painted on them immediately to improve the look of North Lawrence.

Suggested weekend assignment:
Take the bridge from Sixth St., turn east onto Locust, and look at those massive silos, oddly bright against the Kansas sky. I have driven there several times this November, just to stop and stare at their stark beauty. Stunning. May they stand untouched for many, many years.

bearded_gnome 3 years, 1 month ago

that estimates Lawrence’s retail vacancy rate is 7 percent. That is compared to a 14 percent vacancy rate for the Kansas City metro area, and a 10 percent rate nationally. The information comes from an area consultant who was hired by the North Lawrence development group to complete a city-mandated market study. That is also the same number that city staff members found when it produced a retail market study for 2010. City staff members, though, did find this summer that vacant square footage in downtown had risen to about 13 percent when there were several empty store fronts along Massachusetts Street. I do find vacancy rate data interesting because City Hall leaders are frequently told by some neighborhood advocates that the city has more retail space than it can support based on its income levels. But if Lawrence has a vacancy rate that is half of neighboring Kansas City and less than the national average, that argument seems harder to make. Or maybe not. We’re good at arguing.

---Chad, you obviously didn't clear this text with Merrill! you might as well have put his name in there! lol.

I think I hear the sound of Merrill getting the legs chopped out from under him.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 1 month ago

The retail vacancy rate is a victim of fraud in a way. How you say? For example the Tanger Mall recently was classified as light industrial and removed from the list of retail. Hmmmmmmm

These tricky real estate executives.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 1 month ago

More secret sales taxes on the horizon?

Keep a close eye open for more tax dollar give aways. There is no hard evidence that these tax dollar give aways support long term employment at a solid rate of at least $17.50 per hour. It takes $17.50 per hour to just get by in Lawrence,Kansas.

Forget anything like Dick's or any other big box. There are simply not enough retail dollars in Lawrence to support this extravagant thinking. Another movie theatre will not have enough customers = go broke.

Why build anything that will sit empty for any length of time? This is not smart economics.

Why participate in the destruction of downtown Lawrence? This is unfriendly to business.

I say eliminate from the plan 200,000 square feet of restaurants, shops, a hotel, and a movie theater.

Think instead a grocery store,small hardware store a laundromat, a new Johnny's and a ton of beautiful landscaping = money makers that will pay back. These are store fronts and natural beauty people will use frequently even new living tenants.

And Lawrence is going to need to push the art district and bicycle events to make all of these new hotels a success. Otherwise all of this becomes a drag on the economy,money losers for the owners and big tax returns for the for the owners as a reward for developing money losing real estate projects.

The economy will not bounce back anytime soon. Think in terms of 10 years according to what I hear and read daily. The middle class is being destroyed as we speak. They are losing homes due to loss of long time employment. It's happened to many that live in Lawrence,Kansas. The job market sucks big time. 25 million need long term full time jobs for the economy to come back with any substance.

Lawrence,Kansas is a glass house which requires a much longer time frame for the devastated economy to sink in.

Flap Doodle 3 years, 1 month ago

I'd swear that I saw this exact same post on another thread of this award-winning website about 4 hours ago. (from a source)

Richard Heckler 3 years, 1 month ago

Infill is workable only if the demand is there. Otherwise it does nothing but further flood the markets.

Infill does not magically create more demand or retail dollars anymore than sprawl development does.

Further flooding a retail market with infill is unfriendly to business and taxpayers.

The Lawrence population is shrinking probably as a result of no long term middle class employment and the extraordinary high cost of residential.

BTW if Lawrence wants to attract senior citizens Douglas County and City Commissioners will need to erase personal property taxes across the board for those 65 and over.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 1 month ago

Be Practical:

As a matter of fact I would scratch the new residential.

Build a beautifully landscaped super Johnny's with riverfront patio's we know that will work plus the grocery store,small hardware store and a laundromat. Now you're making money and helping North Lawrence.

AGAIN and BTW if Lawrence wants to attract senior citizens Douglas County and City Commissioners will need to erase personal property taxes across the board for those 65 and over.

More new NOT necessary retail will be vacant over and over and over and over....

If I were a retailer in Lawrence never would I sign a long term contract. Renewable every 30 days only..... or forget it. The Chamber is too busy putting small business people out of business = they cannot be trusted!

Rae Hudspeth 3 years, 1 month ago

Well, that cute pedal car could ferry folks across the bridge.

Maybe some need to check out San Antonio's Riverwalk.. clean up the Kaw first, then build.

Dunno where the ag run-off will go though.

oldbaldguy 3 years ago

anybody been down to Branson at the landing in high water? Tulsa has a riverfront area that attracts a lot of people but they have not been washed out by the Arkansas yet.

Richard Heckler 3 years ago

The trouble with elected officials they go to the CEO"s of any industry and developers for advice!!!! too often!!!! Then the elected officials walk away still uninformed.

One answer to our political problems : CUT OFF special interest financing of elections! YES even at the local level.

Our government is always claiming the USA is about democracy. In that case allow the citizens to practice democracy by allowing citizens to vote on these issues in 2012:

Let's demand a new system and vote in Fair Vote America : http://www.fairvote.org/irv/ Demand a change on the next ballot.

Let's have public financing of campaigns. Citizens cannot afford special interest money campaigns for it is the citizens that get left out. Let citizens vote on this issue. http://www.publicampaign.org/

Bribery of elected officials and bribed officials = the most stinky of all bribery!

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