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Archive for Sunday, October 2, 2011

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

October 2, 2011

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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.”

Again.

Comments

blindrabbit 2 years, 6 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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Kim Murphree 2 years, 6 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?

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vuduchyld 2 years, 6 months ago

So...serious question...it 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.

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Flap Doodle 2 years, 6 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.

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Scott Morgan 2 years, 6 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

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oneeye_wilbur 2 years, 6 months ago

The city compost pile and sewer plant will be reason to not live in the place. It could possibly be a good idea, but it is at minimum 30 years too late. The only thing closest to it that was rehabbed for residential living was thesmall building to the west which served as a habitat for someone who worked for the Police Dept, and then alter for KU Athletics.

Ger real, too late, no money and a long dark walk to downtown., well it would be uptown in this case. The East Lawrence neighborhood group doesn't want any bars in the area either. Bo Harris went through that. How stupid is that group. They talk of history and had a chance to have Shorty"s Bar and Grill on the site of fomer Shorty Cohen's junkyard.

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blindrabbit 2 years, 6 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.

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George Lippencott 2 years, 6 months ago

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

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 6 months ago

Here’s what happens. (THIS IS ALL ABOUT LOCAL DEVELOPMENT)

http://www.democracynow.org/2008/1/18/free_lunch_how_the_wealthiest_americans

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. http://www.uua.org/events/generalassembly/2008/commonthreads/115777.shtml

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 6 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.

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colorado 2 years, 6 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?

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sjgreen 2 years, 6 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!

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lazydazy 2 years, 6 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.

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irvan moore 2 years, 6 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

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tanaumaga 2 years, 6 months ago

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

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FalseHopeNoChange 2 years, 6 months ago

Leave it dilapidated. It serves east lawrence well that way. Make it a homeless shelter or put SRS offices it. The arteests of the town can paint preety flowers on the walls for comforting sensations.

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oneeye_wilbur 2 years, 6 months ago

Could the dude breathe some new life in "not_holroyd". Poor thing needs an IV, or some of those drugs Jerard Loughner is getting to make him sane.

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bstevens 2 years, 6 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.

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Lawrence Morgan 2 years, 6 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?

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waka3 2 years, 6 months ago

dude i lived ther for a few weeks once

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oneeye_wilbur 2 years, 6 months ago

I cannot believe that Chad wrote an article and made it sound as if the Poehler building has had nothing happen to it. Crap, it had Roy's Gallery framing shop in it, and moreso, the SRS office. Write the real story Chad. The building has not been sitting empty since the Civil War.

So,next on the list for a "free" sprinkler system is this building. Next on the list, Mr. Redevloper better have some deep pockets when he gets started on that brick on the west side. Krnish says he will create something that Lawrence has never seen before. We already have enough stuff that has never been seen before. A fire station at 19th and Haskell overpriced and the public fleeced. a Public Library downtown about to get something that we have never seen and do not need and then there is the Hobbs Taylor lofts with out a trash chute so I understand. Bring on this projects and add it to the list of the Seven NOT Wonders of Lawrence.

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Enlightenment 2 years, 6 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.

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Alceste 2 years, 6 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.

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Sparko 2 years, 6 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.

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lazydazy 2 years, 6 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!!

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Number_1_Grandma 2 years, 6 months ago

Sure sounds like another name for tax abatement to me....

"Tax credit" is fancy name for the rich getting richer at taxpayers expense.

Wise up, Lawrence!

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Bob Forer 2 years, 6 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.

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smitty 2 years, 6 months ago

Field Guide to Low-Income Housing Tax Credits http://www.realtor.org/library/library/fg720

The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program is run by the IRS and allows companies to invest in low-income housing, while receiving 10 years of tax credits. This important program works with state housing finance agencies to administer the program on a state level. Housing credit units are privately owned by developers and are run at a profit. Investigate this complex program by reading the articles below

http://www.kcchamber.com/RESOURCES-SERVICES/Community/Tax-Credit-Financing--Incentive-for-Historic-Redev.aspx

If this was an historic preservation project, surely that would have been noted.

BTW JW, this building was used by the SRS prior to their current location.

http://www2.ljworld.com/news/1991/jun... The new building will be constructed on a vacant lot at 19th and Delaware, which Venture Properties owns.

Wann said SRS already had approved the building plan, which calls for a one-story building.

He said the 75 workers currently employed in Lawrence are crowded in their 11,000-square-foot office at 619 E. Eighth.

By the anticipated move-in date of Dec. 20, Wann said, SRS expects to have about 90 employees.

Wann said the state wanted easy access for SRS clients. It also wanted a site near the state highway system because of the number of SRS workers who will travel from other counties to Lawrence.

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down_the_river 2 years, 6 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?

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FlintlockRifle 2 years, 6 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

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jazzttt 2 years, 6 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.

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thefactsare 2 years, 6 months ago

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

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thefactsare 2 years, 6 months ago

Grandma - tax abatments are not allowed for residential property!

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Number_1_Grandma 2 years, 6 months ago

Tax abatement, tax abatement, tax abatement.....

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Floyd Craig 2 years, 6 months ago

that guy is going to want money from the city to remodle it n make it a money makere for him self plus a few city fathers whos got thier hands out so look out folks there gos the money that have taken from u and me n they will want more

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Curtis Lange 2 years, 6 months ago

Location, location, location...

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