A rumored expansion of Lawrence City Hall into a renovated building along the Kansas River won’t happen after all.
Mayor Bob Schumm confirmed the city has been in negotiations for about four months to purchase the Abe & Jake’s Landing building immediately east of City Hall, but Schumm said the city ended those negotiations in recent days.
The deal would have come with an interesting twist: The city would have been buying a building it already owns. The 19th-century building and property came under the ownership of the city when it purchased land in the area for City Hall. But during the 1990s, the city granted Lawrence businessman Mike Elwell a low-cost, long-term lease on the building, in exchange for him making about $2 million worth of improvements to what had become an eyesore. Elwell rents out the Abe & Jake's space for weddings and other events.
Elwell’s lease on the building runs through 2087. A deal would have involved the city buying Elwell out of that lease.
The city was interested in the former industrial building as a site to house a consolidated office for the city’s Planning and Development Services Department, which is now split between two locations.
“We had some architects look at it to see what it would take to get it in a usable condition,” Schumm said of the building. “The information came back and the bottom line is we just decided not to move forward with it.”
Currently, the city’s planning division has its offices in City Hall. The city’s building permit and codes enforcement division, however, has its offices east of City Hall in rented space in the former Riverfront Mall — which is owned by members of the Simons family, which also owns the Journal-World’s parent company.
The city long has wanted to combine the two offices to create a “one-stop shop” for builders and developers that do projects in the city. Schumm, though, said he’s not sure when progress may be made on that effort. He said the city currently is not looking at any other space for the combined office.
Elwell said Tuesday that he continues to have the building on the market. Elwell has been trying to sell the 24,000-square-foot building — which has about 50-foot-high ceilings in most places — since early 2011, when he placed it on the market for $1.3 million.
Elwell said Tuesday that he has another potential buyer for the building. He said it is likely a new owner would be most interested in maintaining the building’s use as an event venue.
“Just continuing on with the private event space probably is the best use for it,” Elwell said.
Elwell, though, said he was intrigued by the possibility of the city using the building for office space.
“The city has a lot of things on its agenda for spending money right now, and I think this just didn’t fit,” Elwell said. “I understand, but I think they’ll end up regretting it because it is one of the few properties that is really adjacent to City Hall.”