Archive for Thursday, November 24, 2011

North Lawrence boardwalk proposal picks up steam

Plan includes stores, restaurants, hotel and more near river

November 24, 2011


A plan to bring shoppers and diners — and perhaps even moviegoers — to the edge of the Kansas River via a 1,800-foot boardwalk in North Lawrence is still afloat and is showing signs of gaining momentum.

A group of area businessmen have filed plans with City Hall that would allow for about 200,000 square feet of restaurants, shops, a hotel, a movie theater, offices and apartments or condos to fill in the area surrounding the Johnny’s Tavern location at North Second and Locust streets in North Lawrence.

“I have always been about 150 yards away from the river, but I’ve never really had the action of it here,” said Rick Renfro, an owner of Johnny’s and one of the developers of the proposed project. “Most people who come to Johnny’s don’t even know the river is so close. It would be neat if we could change that.”

The group first broached the idea for creating a commercial development along the river in late 2008, but a recent filing at Lawrence City Hall is the latest sign that the project is gaining a new level of seriousness.

“With big projects like this, you just keep waiting for somebody to slam the door in your face,” Renfro said. “So far, nobody has slammed the door.”

The group has filed a request to have the area around Johnny’s formally designated as a part of downtown. That would make the area eligible to receive a special downtown zoning designation that allows for taller buildings, fewer setback requirements and a different set of parking regulations.

The zoning would allow the nearly 18-acre site to have a downtown feel, but the centerpiece of the project would be something you don’t find in downtown Lawrence: a boardwalk. A “concept plan” calls for an 1,800-foot-long boardwalk to run alongside the top of the Kansas River levee. Multistory buildings that would house restaurants, shops and a hotel would be built adjacent to the boardwalk, giving people a chance to shop and dine with a view of the Kaw.

“We’re ecstatic about the possibilities,” said Lawrence architect Paul Werner, who is designing the project. “It would be an extension of downtown. We think it could really tie both sides of the river together.”

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.

The project does not yet have commitments from any tenants, but in plans submitted to City Hall, developers listed several possibilities. They included:

• A relocated Johnny’s Tavern that would move out of its longtime home in order to have a new facility with river views

• A 66,000-square-foot hotel

• A 50,000-square-foot movie theater

• A 27,000-square-foot sporting goods store, which would be large enough to accommodate a chain retailer such as a Dick’s Sporting Goods

• Space for at least two other restaurants, a microbrewery, and at least another dozen miscellaneous retailers

• Upper-floor office and condo/apartment space

Werner said the project is dependent upon the economy improving enough to get retailers interested in the development. But the group includes area developers who have had some successes in getting projects started. In addition to Renfro and his partners in the Johnny’s franchise, the group includes Jon Davis, who has owned multiple commercial properties in 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 development will need several approvals from Lawrence City Hall before it can move forward. But Werner said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently has given several approvals related to the suitability of building new structures next to the levee.

“We still have a ways to go, but a lot has been getting done,” Werner said.

Planning commissioners likely will take up the issue of whether to extend the downtown designation to the area at their January meeting. If approved, the development will have to submit specific plans for approval by both planning commissioners and city commissioners.


akuna 6 years, 6 months ago

Love it. Hope these visionary business persons can make this happen.

awelles 6 years, 6 months ago

Of course no one has slammed the door in your face. It's a great idea. I'll miss the "old" Johnny's. Maybe it could become a "John's Retro Pub." Tweek the menu with Fish 'n Chips, Bangers 'n Mash and Shepard's Pie. It's a good use of the riverfront. I doubt it will be and extension of downtown. I've seen people drive two downtown blocks and watt for a parking place. I wouldn't expect to see too many, except for oldsters and young lovers, walking the bridge. A small skateboard and dog park would be nice. Go for it Rick.

dragonwagon2 6 years, 6 months ago

What a wonderful idea! I've thought for some time that Lawrence needs to make the best of the riverfront. A boardwalk with entertainment and shopping would certainly improve that area.

Any chance you could add a grocery store somewhere in there? :)

flyin_squirrel 6 years, 6 months ago

Great idea. I run the levee all the time, and hope this becomes a reality. Imagine living in an apartment/condo above the river:

-walking downstairs to get my coffee in the morning - walking across the bridge for lunch at Freestate and a beer - riding my bike down the levee to the River trails - walking out my front door to run miles on the levee - shopping at a grocery store without having to get in a car - watching the eagles sore on the river during sunset on my deck - walking over to catch the late movie

I would rather look at the river (even though it isn't the cleanest), then live at the new apartment building at 9th and New Hampshire and look at the tar tops of buildings.

Make it happen Lawrence and lets get more people living near downtown!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

Would the "boardwalk" mean that what is now very popular and heavily used public park space would become private property?

flyin_squirrel 6 years, 6 months ago

There is no public park behind Johnnies. It is all private property.

flyin_squirrel 6 years, 6 months ago

I would think the developers would know you cannot build on the rivers side of the levee, which is the area between the green line and the river.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

The boardwalk would be on the levy, which is currently public park, not private land.

JustNoticed 6 years, 6 months ago

This is what that ridiculous thing on the south side of the river should have been. Please keep Werner's hands off it.

HootyWho 6 years, 6 months ago

seems like the riverfront mall was supposed to be a "wonderful" proposal too

JustNoticed 6 years, 6 months ago

Right, Riverfront Mall, I couldn't remember the name. But the stupidest thing about that POS is that architecturally, it keeps people off the river. It forces foot traffic into the place and is not at all about public access to the river. It was bad enough in the beginning but now that it's a hotel it's hideously worse. There are signs that actually say the outside concrete walk is for guests only. And while I'm at it. The Journal World made the same kind of architectural mistake with its new building and the way it completely turns its back on Mass. It's disgusting. What should have, could have, been a nice flow from downtown to a river experience instead is chopped off by a whole block of blank brick wall. Stupid.

Tammy Copp-Barta 6 years, 6 months ago

So was Tanger Mall ... that was supposed to be a wonderful idea that fizzled to .. hope they are not going to try to dump traffic to 2nd and Locust .. but take it further down 2nd street coming out around Lyons ..

HootyWho 6 years, 6 months ago

seems like the riverfront mall was supposed to be a "wonderful" proposal too

classclown 6 years, 6 months ago

So which other college or European town are we trying to copy?

How many trees will die to make this boardwalk?

Why not make it a cobblestone walk? Give it a real Lawrence feel.

flyin_squirrel the very first paragraph should clue you in. They want to build this right to the rivers edge which is public park space. Bozo's question certainly has merit.

flyin_squirrel 6 years, 6 months ago

Clown, read the entire article, edge can mean a lot of things. Later on it says:

"A “concept plan” calls for an 1,800-foot-long boardwalk to run alongside the top of the Kansas River levee. Multistory buildings that would house restaurants, shops and a hotel would be built adjacent to the boardwalk, giving people a chance to shop and dine with a view of the Kaw. "

Rivers edge might be public park, but the City and Corp of Engineers will never let building be built on the rivers side of the levee or on the levee. It says the building are adjacent to the boardwalk.

deec 6 years, 6 months ago

Isn't the top of the levee public space now? Will it become restricted when handed over to private developers? What about flooding? Isn't the building on the south side starting to slide into the river? How much public money (abatements, TIFs, special secret tax districts) will this development ask for and undoubtedly, receive?

classclown 6 years, 6 months ago

Chad, are any drawings of this concept available that can be posted here?

JayhawkFan1985 6 years, 6 months ago

I like the idea, but I do have some questions. The former Tanger Mall is nearly empty. How much retail space can north Lawrence absorb? What impact will this development likely have on downtown? In a perfect world the only retail areas in town that would be adversely affected would be on 23rd or S. Iowa or W. 6th as those area are just suburban strip mall type areas that don't enhance the community at all.

kansasredlegs 6 years, 6 months ago

Can't recall any "big box" retailers located along any boardwalk I've ever been on. To allow such commercial retail will eventually lead to vacancies and blight. Keep a village feel and this will challenge "downtown" as a destination spot.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 6 months ago

What a revenue stream for the city. DUI checkpoints on the bridge.

beaujackson 6 years, 6 months ago

As Tuttle Creek & Perry reservoirs become silted and less effective, flooding becomes more likely in N. Lawrence.

Wonder how this will affect flood insurance in this area?

Richard Heckler 6 years, 6 months 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.

Jennifer Dropkin 6 years, 6 months ago

JustNoticed has raised an important point: the development in North Lawrence won't mean anything for the overall development of North Lawrence if it excludes itself from the community. The World Company's buildings do just that: the J-W building on Mass turns its back on the most important street in Lawrence, guaranteeing that that northeast portion of Mass Street is a Dead Zone. The World Company's policy of running its buildings as if they are fortresses to be defended from the public hordes does the same--pretty ironic for a communications company. With the transition of the Riverfront Mall from public property to private property, what should have been a public and attractive feature of the building--the ability to view the river from inside or to stand on the patio to watch the river and the eagles--became an exclusive privilege for a few. No development along the river in North Lawrence will work if that development becomes a gated compound uninvolved the community around it.

Phillbert 6 years, 6 months ago

There are all sorts of empty storefronts on Mass St., so clearly the solution is to build more retail space north of it.

And I'm guessing there will have to be "incentives" for these free market developers to build this.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 6 months ago

"And I'm guessing there will have to be "incentives" for these free market developers to build this."


Tax Incentives provide a leg up against their competitors which in fact eliminates anything that resembles the Free Market. Only mom and pops are the true Free Market business people.

City, state and federal lawmakers have effectively eliminated the Free Market instead support corporate socialism.

snitty 6 years, 6 months ago

So will the thousands of cars and trucks using this proposed development just go into the intersection at N. 2nd and Locust? If so, that will overload a key arterial. That intersection is directly in front of the Kansas River bridge Any blockage of the river bridge can cause gridlock throughout downtown, and isolate people in North Lawrence. So there has to be another main entrance for this that would perforce be on the other side of the tracks somewhere. Has this been planned for?

friendofhaskell 6 years, 5 months ago

Merrill has it right. If a true investment were being made in North Lawrence, there would be a grocery store, laundry mat, hardware store, bank, etc.. North Lawrence is the only area of town without all of these basics, as well as a recreation center while plans go forward for another mega facility in West Lawrence. Is this project a true investment in the community across the bridge or another way to shift the benefit of tax incentives to private investors at a time when we can ill afford another Tanger Mall (by the way a great location for a grocery store, laundry mat and hardware store) or Riverfront Mall fiasco. Rather than handing over tax incentives to "private investors" how's about declaring North Lawrence an economic enterprise zone and using incentives and tax breaks for local businesses who locate in North Lawrence as well as building up the infrastructure and northern corridor to Lawrence?

friendofhaskell 6 years, 5 months ago

This is also the second economic development article in which the developers are planning to eliminate mobile home parks. Where will these lower income members of the communities relocate? Lawrence is a very expensive place to live for those on fixed or low incomes. Is there a desire to rid Lawrence of low income and poor people by building over trailer parks as this will impact the availability of employees in service industries? It's like relocating the homeless shelter to Highway 10, next to the jail. Is this the site of the next mobile home park too?

OnAir 6 years, 5 months ago

Classic bait-and-switch. Wait for the pretty pictures of brick buildings with happy couples waling along a tree-lined boardwalk, then see the new bar district with a dozen new liquor licenses and nightclub patios that hang over the levee with the butts covering the ground. How often do we fall for the "it will be just like this" only to have more empty lots and boxes? I.e. the new urbanism of 6th & Wak, the Macado (or whatevah), and every other proposed development. May be ok in theory - will be much different in practice.

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