It’s great to see a local group creatively exploring ways to develop property at the north end of the downtown Kansas River bridge. The details of the plan will be the focus of much discussion and perhaps a number of changes as they are fleshed out, but the group deserves credit for having a creative vision of how the property can be redeveloped into an attractive focal point north of the river.
The group first started looking at the possibility of a commercial development between Johnny’s Tavern and the river in 2008, but there had been little activity on the idea until developers filed plans at City Hall last week for a project that would include about 200,000 square feet of space for shops, restaurants, apartments, condominiums and perhaps a hotel or movie theater.
One of the main attractions for the development is the same thing that attracted early settlers to Lawrence: the Kansas River. The “concept plan” for the development includes a 1,800-foot long boardwalk running alongside the existing Kansas River levee. Multi-story buildings would rise up beside the boardwalk to give visitors a view of the river as they dine or shop. Office and residential structures also would take advantage of the riverfront view.
As with any large, creative project, the North Lawrence development likely will face a number of obstacles. First is a zoning request that would designate the area as part of Lawrence’s downtown, which would allow for taller buildings, fewer setback requirements and different parking regulations. Next, will be the economy. The developers don’t currently have any commitments from potential tenants, and, until the economy turns around, it will be hard to attract investors willing to locate stores or a hotel or movie theater at the site.
The developers aren’t thinking small. They say the site would accommodate a 66,000-square-foot hotel, a 50,000-square-foot movie theater or a 27,000-square-foot retail tenant —a space big enough to attract a chain retailer, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods. Attracting a retail chain that usually locates in a more suburban location close to other chain stores seems like a stretch, but, again, there’s nothing wrong with thinking outside the box.
It’s also unlikely this project could be pursued, without a certain amount of dissent from local sources. Retailers in the Downtown Lawrence might balk at extending their footprint over the bridge. North Lawrence residents may have concerns about the impact of this project on nearby businesses and residents, including those living in a trailer park that would be eliminated in the plan.
However, there are many potential positives to this plan. If it is successful, it could create a signature retail and entertainment district on the north side of the river that could attract many local residents and visitors to the community.
The Kansas River has been a focal point for Lawrence since the city’s founding, and it’s nice to see some creative thinkers looking to the river as a focus of new development.