Archive for Sunday, October 2, 2011

Developer wants to breathe new life into former Poehler Mercantile Co. building in east Lawrence

October 2, 2011


The old Poehler building to be apartments

Developer Tony Krsnich plans to turn the old Poehler building on East Eighth Street into about 50 apartments. Enlarge video

A bush that wants to be a tree blocks the stairs to one of the few doors left unboarded on this east Lawrence building.

High above it are three-foot-high letters that spell out “Theo. Poehler Mercantile Co. Wholesale Grocers.” In a nod to a different era, the sign is most visible from the railroad tracks that sit just a few feet away.

But those letters are all faded. The ones that now stand out are of the spray paint variety — the ones that have made this building little more than a testament to the creativity of graffiti gangs. Something — an elephant, perhaps — stands at least six feet tall on one of the brick walls. It has a trunk, or, at least, let’s hope that is a trunk. Other graffiti markings rise along a thin-railed, steel ladder that stretches to the very top of the old building — all four stories of it — just off the corner of Eighth and Delaware streets.

Yes, this is east Lawrence’s skyscraper. And no, don’t feel bad if you don’t know a thing about it.

“I went to school here in Lawrence, and so did all of my team,” said Tony Krsnich, a Kansas City developer who is finalizing a purchase of the building in order to undertake a $9 million renovation that will convert it into nearly 50 apartments. “And I didn’t even know it existed.”

It didn’t used to be that way. At one time, this building and the activity that surrounded it was hard to miss. For a time, it was Lawrence’s tallest symbol of a new age of prosperity.

“It was a major building one time, and it could be again,” said John Pendleton, whose great-great-grandfather was the Theo. Poehler whose name fades a little more each day.

• • •

It was 1904, and Lawrence had been down on its luck for quite some time. Perhaps this sounds familiar, but there had been an economic crisis. The Panic of 1893 ushered in a decade of decline for American industry, and it certainly didn’t spare Lawrence.

An East Coast conglomerate owned by some fellows named Carnegie and Morgan bought Lawrence’s Consolidated Barb Wire Factory, the largest private employer in the state. By 1899, they did what conglomerates sometimes do: They closed the plant down. A few years earlier, the city had suffered another lesser-known but still serious economic setback. The Kansas River bridge for the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Galveston Railroad Co. was removed, depriving the city of one of its industrial calling cards.

So it is not hard to see why in 1904 the community took notice when construction began on a four-story brick warehouse on the former site of the Hauber Cooper Shop. The fact the Poehler name would be on the side of the building added to the excitement. Theodore Poehler Jr. was leading the project, but it likely was the memory of his father that led residents to be optimistic about the venture.

Theodore Poehler, who died on New Year’s Eve of 1901, had reached near-titan status in Lawrence.

He came with the right pedigree for the job. His ancestral home in Germany had been granted to the family by a prince in feudal times to repay the family for military service “bravely rendered,” according to a history of the family published in 1918. Poehler grew up the son of educators, but also with a grandfather who was a soldier under Napoleon.

But Poehler’s interests turned to America at an early age. By the time he was 19, he was on a steamboat in the Mississippi River, traveling from New Orleans to Burlington, Iowa. There he became a supplier to the steamboats, and eventually ended up in the retail and wholesale grocery business.

By the end of the Civil War, Poehler was rich enough that he embarked on a “sightseeing expedition.” The trip took him south to Kansas City, which he described as a “mud hole.” But Lawrence, and the emphasis it placed on education, was a town he liked. He moved his family here, and by 1883 a business directory listed Poehler as having a wholesale grocery and grain elevator firm that employed 22 men and had annual revenues of about $200,000, or about $4.5 million today.

Poehler went on to become the treasurer of Douglas County and the mayor of Lawrence, for a short period of time. And the building that his son built, who died three years after it was completed, did go on to spark a renaissance of sorts.

“It really did become a very important area for Lawrence,” said Lynn Zollner, the city’s historic resources administrator, who worked on getting the area designated as the East Lawrence Industrial Historic District in 2007. “Lawrence really became kind of a center for food production for this region.”

According to documents compiled as part of the historic district process, Douglas County’s apple crop routinely produced more than 60,000 barrels of apples, and at various times four cider and vinegar plants operated simultaneously in Lawrence, with some of them also making pickles, ketchup, jellies and other products. Pendleton tells of how his family remembers the area being a hub for potatoes and peas and other produce that eventually led to the Pendletons opening up the Kaw Valley Cannery. It later became a cannery for the Stokely-Van Camp bean company.

“It was big business for Kansas and the whole area, for awhile,” Pendleton said.

The Poehler Mercantile Co. became one of the largest grocery wholesalers in the region, using the city’s railroad connections and easy access to fresh produce grown in the Kaw River valley, to become a major supplier for points west of here. The company later built a warehouse building of equal size in Emporia, and opened branches in Topeka and McPherson.

And it went on that way for a long time. But then it ended. As the 1960s approached, semi-trucks and interstates became even more important than railroads.

“The world just kind of changed,” Pendleton said.

The Journal-World had written several articles about the Poehler Mercantile Co. over the years, but on May 17, 1957, the newspaper carried just a six-paragraph article announcing that the company was halting its operations. The reasons were left up to your imagination.

• • •

The Poehler building has been sparking the imagination of Krsnich since he first saw it a little more than a year ago.

“It does take a little bit of vision to look past the boarded up windows, but it is one hell of a building,” Krsnich said.

Inside, it is one heck of a mess right now. Shards of glass crunch beneath your feet on many a step, and insulation and other ceiling material often dangles overhead.

But through it all, the potential is easy enough to see. Massive amounts of timber bless the building. A solid wooden beam of about 18 inches square runs down the center of the building and makes a man who buys lumber by the foot at a local home improvement store drool.

The ceilings on the ground floor are 12 feet tall, and some still have old pressed tin. Krsnich talks about how the wooden beams will be sandblasted and taken back to their natural state, how tin ceilings will be replaced, and how the building’s signature bay windows will be restored.

“This is going to be someone’s apartment,” Krsnich said, standing in the light of a window that is at least 10 feet tall.

Plans call for the Poehler building to become 49 apartments, all but three of them rent-controlled units — a requirement for the project that is receiving state tax credits. Krsnich’s group also has purchased the nearby Kansas Fruit Vinegar Company building, or the Cider Vinegar Building as it has been known. As previously reported, Krsnich plans to convert that building into 30 to 40 small artists studios. The space also would include a gallery and an outdoor reception area. The entire project currently is going through the zoning process and eventually will seek incentives through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act and other city programs.

“We believe we’re going to create something that Lawrence hasn’t seen before,” Krsnich said.

And in the process, Krsnich hopes the project will help Lawrence see what it used to be.

“I think it will be impossible for people to drive by here when we are done and not want to become educated about what Lawrence used to be,” Krsnich said. “I just think this whole district is an untapped resource.

“I think this will be an attraction not only in Lawrence, but hopefully for the Midwest. People will want to be here.”



thefactsare 6 years, 7 months ago

Grandma - tax abatments are not allowed for residential property!

thefactsare 6 years, 7 months ago

Tax credits are NOT tax abatments. Study up on your Kansas incentive programs.

Tyson Travis 6 years, 7 months ago

My late father, Ken Travis, worked for Poehler in the late '40s and early '50s, maintaining their Reo delivery trucks, and occasionally driving resupply trucks out to local grocers. The Salvation Army thrift shop used to be on the ground floor, I used to go there to buy old 78rpm jazz records in the '60s. I applaud efforts to reconstruct the building, but hope someone has given a thought to fire safety, this is a 100+ year old masonry building with wooden beams which I'm sure are pretty dried out by now. Not unlike other buildings in Lawrence, just be careful, once they get started, they're hard to stop.

overthemoon 6 years, 7 months ago

That's why we have building codes for renovation as well as new construction. They'll probably install sprinkler systems or some sort of rated finishing.

FlintlockRifle 6 years, 7 months ago

Mr. Harris is someone trying to take your idea and run with it, if I recall Bo wanted to do this a few years ago and our city "guys" put to many stumbleing blocks in his path. I can also remember several people whom made a living working for the Poehler family

George_Braziller 6 years, 7 months ago

Bo's plan was to convert it into high dollar condos and a few apartments.

down_the_river 6 years, 7 months ago

It's a great old building, but as weatherman suggested, it's a terrible location for this announced use. Unless the Santa Fe abandons the track, the disruption from the Amtrak, coal trains and other freight trains will not make this a location people would want to call home. There's also the sites and sounds of the adjacent sewer treatment plant and the concrete plant. I don't think the developers have failed to notice these items. It seems possible this is a bait and switch scenario, after approvals have been granted, another use will emerge?

independent_rebel 6 years, 7 months ago

Hmm. Interesting. You may be on to something.

Bob Forer 6 years, 7 months ago

“I went to school here in Lawrence, ..... and I didn’t even know it existed.”

Of course not, son. For many folks history is only exciting and interesting if you can make a pile of cash on it at the taxpayers expense.

RL 6 years, 7 months ago

TheSychophant: I think your statement is an unfair jab towards Tony. You obviously don't know him or what he is about. He is a great guy and is truly interested in the preservation of historic properties. It just so happens this is how he makes a living.

Enlightenment 6 years, 7 months ago

Number 1 Granny, you need to first learn what LIHTC are and that it is not a tax abatement. LIHTC are federally funded, state allocated funding sources for developers to produce affordable housing. LIHTC are not tax abatements! LIHTCs limit the developer's profit from the construction of the project and also limit the amount of rent that can be charged. Renters living in these developments must meet income restrictions (there is a minimum and max income requirement), so renters do not pay on a sliding scale. In other words, renters in LIHTC developments need to have an income in order to reside there. LIHTCs allow for the renovation and preservation of properties such as the one described. My opinion is that i would rather have it renovated than set vacant and fall into disrepair.

lazydazy 6 years, 7 months ago

Wow, that looks like a fun project. As for the location, some people think it's cool to live in an old building, with history too :). Hopefully they do their research before moving into any new place. See what the neighborhood is like,if the trains bother you, look elsewhere. Good for the developer!!!! How wonderful, he's a local, We should hope he does good things, there are good people out there. Thanks to all of you!!

George_Braziller 6 years, 7 months ago

I've lived near train tracks, on a street with a lot of traffic, and around the corner from a fire station. Eventually the trains, traffic, and sirens just become background noise and you really don't hear them any more.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 7 months ago

I too lived near, like tracks in the backyard. No problem after a while.

Sparko 6 years, 7 months ago

Would be nice to see the building rehabbed in a decent way. Apartments are an interesting idea, but honestly the building is not the best location for those. Studios of some kind, possibly, or a general use warehouse as trains are becoming more important again in the next few years. I think ultimately the rehab will light on what is easy to achieve.

Alceste 6 years, 7 months ago

Where's the list to sign up to live there? Me and mine would certainly like a chance to live in that building. Good idea, Mr. Tony Krsnich and if tax abatements were ever indicated, they would be so for such a project.

Alceste 6 years, 7 months ago

The subsidies oneeye_wilbur makes note of? They're real and being given out like there is no tomorrow. Here's some info on the subsidies:

"Destruction of the Center of Lawrence

"Landlords profit from turning the center of Lawrence into a student ghetto, while taxpayers and the city provide them with massive subsidies."

The above was written by:

Arly Allen Bob Blank Joan Stevenson for the Centennial Neighborhood Assocation

The city documents the statement makes reference to may be viewed here: (Since they're on a city of Lawrence website and provided by ever so important staff, they've got to be true, accurate, and with great merit, eh?:

That Arly Allen and his Centennial Neighborhood Association? How would Lawrence survive and prosper were it not for the likes of Mr. Allen, Mr. Blank, and Ms. Joan Stevenson??? They've uncovered some Lawrence city staffer based skull duggery like never before. Yes they have. Let's see the list of subsidy payouts to Landlords that Mr. Allen, Mr. Blank, and Ms. Joan Stevenson have uncovered. Inquiring minds want and need to know....

Enlightenment 6 years, 7 months ago

I've seen some of the other projects Tony has done, which are quite impressive. Way to go Tony and wish you the best on this venture.

waka3 6 years, 7 months ago

dude i lived ther for a few weeks once

Lawrence Morgan 6 years, 7 months ago

It is a great idea. And it's a bit of history I knew nothing of before now. I do, think, however, that more thinking has to go into what exactly should be put in the building. The trains are a problem. But if it's done right, it will be a real plus for Lawrence and for visitors. Chad did a great job with the history of the building, but he should have mentioned the SRS office. Are there any photos from the past which could be put up? Like when the building opened for the first time?

Elizabeth Stevens 6 years, 7 months ago

My grandfather, Al Gufler, was a managing partner of the Poehler Mercantile Company, so we are happy to see the building being put to good use. The Emporia building has a nice antique mall in it, but it also might be good for apartments such as those planned for Lawrence. I live in Manhattan but would love to meet John Pendleton sometime.

Matt Schwartz 6 years, 7 months ago

It smells in here. Oneeye, do you need your diaper changed?

irvan moore 6 years, 7 months ago

homeless shelter, that building is perfect for it and so is the location but the commission wouldn't want them that close to downtown

lazydazy 6 years, 7 months ago

You guys are all so negitive, turning new out of the old is so neat!! Not everyone is out to make a buck off of someone elses back, there are honest people in Lawrence too. Look at all the lofts in KC, I'd love to see the inside of most of them. The homeless need to try harder, most of them are able to work (same with low income) they try to make people who work an HONEST hard day feel bad for working hard, begging for their money. This is America, the proud Americans work and sleep well because of their hard work. It gets old having tax $$ go to people who just sit on their butts waiting for a free meal.

Stephanie Hull 6 years, 7 months ago

I think it's great that someone wants to make good use of a wonderful old building and that the end result will be affordable, beautiful apartments near downtown. Best wishes to everyone involved with this project!

colorado 6 years, 7 months ago

So...we should allow what to be done with all of the old Lawrence real estate? The decisions should be sound and beneficial to the community. Who has the book of answers?

Richard Heckler 6 years, 7 months ago

Is this a project = to a tax increase?

There are a ton of rental properties being built in small town Lawrence yet no way for people to work profitably.

So why allow flooding of the markets? Does this increase property values?

How do situations like this make up the tax dollars lost to the community taxpayers?

Is this being being financed by scary financing that which took the economy down the tubes? = nothing has changed = will bring down the economy that never got up again.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 7 months ago


And more: David Cay Johnston then boggled the crowd with a blunt assertion: "We pay billions of dollars in taxes that never get to the government." Much of the sales tax we pay at big box stores and shopping centers is diverted to the large companies that own the stores. It's just one of the many swindles these chains have learned to perpetrate against city and county governments. This is so effective that the Cabela family, which owns a chain of big-box sporting goods stores, receives 137% of its profits from taxpayer subsidies. If they couldn't work this scam, they wouldn't be in business at all.

The heart of the wealth transfer is tax increment financing (TIF). Store owners come to town leaders and offer to build a new store that, they promise, will "create jobs." In exchange, the city gives them the land, builds the store to their specifications, and finances it all with tax-free municipal bonds (which are usually held by associates of the store owners). To cap it all, the store keeps the sales tax generated in the store to pay off the bond holders. If the store is built on government land, it's also exempt from paying any property taxes.

Why do city governments take such a blatantly bad deal? Many of them are struggling, and believe that a new Wal-Mart will bring in shoppers from all over—shoppers who will stick around and shop in their town. It never works out that way. Under stiff competition the small shops go out of business, taking the town's tax base with them. Schools, parks, recreation programs, and libraries are starved. Almost always, these city councils would be far better served putting the money in upgrades to local Main Street businesses, rather than financing the competitor that will kill them.

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 7 months ago

Three year old spam and fair use violations. yay.

George Lippencott 6 years, 7 months ago

Great idea! How much will this cost the taxpayer. Will we share in the profits (if any)?

overthemoon 6 years, 7 months ago

Yes. The whole area is being slowly renovated into some very cool arts and business mixed use. The terrific VanGo building is just a half block away, the renovated train station will provide another feature, and other buildings have been nicely updated. Think of it as a Crossroads or LoDo for Lawrence. From what I've heard from people who know what's going on, the developer has his head in the right place and is wanting to create a place that fosters a mix of creative and entrepreneurial opportunities.

The benefit to you will be a place to find new ideas and things you may not have thought about before.

George Lippencott 6 years, 7 months ago

Wow, I live less well so you can experience new ideas and things you may not have thought about before. Selfish, maybe?

overthemoon 6 years, 7 months ago

I was hoping you might see the advantage to yourself...but you'd have to avail yourself to the opportunity. Try it! You might like it!

The arts have a large economic benefit to the community in terms of both quality of life as well as hard economics. Ask any downtown restaurant what Final Fridays has done for their business.

George Lippencott 6 years, 7 months ago

I thought we were talking an apartment complex? Silly me.

Now I already fund the arts with my tax money. I have had the opportunity to visit the Smithsonian - paid for gladly with my taxes.

Is there any amount of taxpayer money that will satisfy you wrt the arts?

blindrabbit 6 years, 7 months ago

Don't live close to either the BNSF or UP railroad tracks so I don't hear the trains up-close. But when the atmospheric conditions are just right I can hear the trains off in the distance. Have to say, that sound is very satisfying and relaxing; maybe fires some hidden pleasure center in the brain.

overthemoon 6 years, 7 months ago

Its really not very far to downtown. Four blocks maybe?

Scott Morgan 6 years, 7 months ago

I live on acreage now, but my second favorite type of living would be a loft type apartment near a vibrant downtown. Bye bye mowers, bye bye land upkeep, bye bye cars. Hello nightlife.

More power to the group, save an old building too

Flap Doodle 6 years, 7 months ago

A habit obscene and unsavory Holds David Cay Johnson in slavery With lecherous howls He devours young owls That he keeps in an underground aviary.

vuduchyld 6 years, 7 months ago

So...serious looks like the SRS office was 11,000 square feet when it was in that building. If you turn 11,000 square feet into 50 apartments, they are going to be very small apartments--about 220 square feet on average.

Of course, it's possible that the SRS office didn't utilize the entire building, but then it seems strange to have built an entire new building rather than expand into available space under an existing roof.

Does anybody know the actual square footage of the building?

I mean, if you spend $9,000,000 on 50 apartments, you're spending $180,000 on each unit, so in order to get a payback out of it, these can't possibly be at the low end of the market.

Chad Lawhorn 6 years, 7 months ago

The SRS office was only on the ground floor. The apartments would be all on four floors. Thanks, Chad

vuduchyld 6 years, 7 months ago

Thanks, Chad! Appreciate the insight.

We're still talking about $180,000 per apartment. If there are 44,000 square feet, it's 880 square feet per apartment on average. That's subtracting nothing for hallways, elevators, etc...

Still makes it a pretty tough deal, I'd say, but at least it makes sense.

Kim Murphree 6 years, 7 months ago

Here's the unspoken piece...this owner forced out his renters several years ago...people who had small entreprenuerial businesses in the building and paid rent and kept their individual spaces in good condition--several of them were small martial arts studios--and others were unique individual businesses---on the premise that he was going to redo the whole building. Now, after he kicked the paying renters out, the building is empty, and he wants tax money to help redo it. Yes, its an historic and beautiful building, but rather than apartments, it could have remained space for small business owners--where is the support for small business space--something that has direct impact on the local economy?

blindrabbit 6 years, 7 months ago

Great old building, but for apartments? Because the building has very few windows, what is the developer going to do about views, my guess is that there is some requirement for external windows, if so the character of the building will change greatly as they punch holes on the exterior to satisfy this issue. Maybe, I don't know what I'm talking about!

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