Conventions on the Kaw may become a new marketing campaign in Lawrence.
Lawrence city commissioners are being asked to approve a deal that will transfer control of the Abe & Jake’s Landing building along the Kansas River to a group that wants to begin marketing the unique turn-of-the-century industrial building more for small-scale conventions and meetings.
“It is just a magical building,” said Mike Logan, a Lawrence nightclub operator who has formed a partnership with Lawrence businessman Doug Compton to take over the building. “My goal is for it to be 100 percent an events facility. We want to do everything we can to keep people coming to downtown Lawrence.”
The city of Lawrence actually owns the building that is sometimes called the Barbed Wire Building because it once housed a barbed wire manufacturing business. Since 1999, Mike Elwell has controlled the building through a low-cost, long-term lease that was granted to him in exchange for investing about $2 million to refurbish what had become an eyesore.
At their Tuesday evening meeting, commissioners will be asked to transfer Elwell’s interest in the building over to a new group formed by Compton and Logan.
Construction work is set to begin in January on another Compton-led downtown project: a multistory Marriott extended stay hotel at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. Compton said the Marriott can be a good generator of new business for a downtown events venue.
“We feel like it will give us banquet facility space we would not have in the hotel,” Compton said. “It is a beautiful building and has a beautiful setting. It really just continues our interest and commitment in downtown.”
Logan, who operates The Granada nightclub in downtown Lawrence, will be the day-to-day operator of the facility. He said the Abe and Jake’s space can accommodate about 720 people for a meeting or convention.
Elwell has been marketing the facility, which features expansive views of the river and 50-foot high ceilings in spots, for use as a wedding reception venue for the past several years. Logan said that will continue to be a focus of the business, but he hopes to better market the facility for daytime and nonweekend use as well.
The new emphasis comes at a time with the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau has launched an effort to more aggressively target convention business, especially the annual meetings of associations in the region.
“I think there are many groups that see Lawrence as not an option because we don’t have the large convention hall,” said Christina Phelps, director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But we’re trying very hard to show them that we are an option. It is just an option that looks different than what is in some other communities.
“I think this will allow us to offer a totally different kind of convention space. We think it will be an exciting opportunity.”
At the Granada, Logan serves as one of the larger concert promoters in downtown. He said he’s exploring some music uses for the facility, but said concerts won’t be the major use of the building. He said he’s particularly interested in seeing whether there are music or art events that could be held in the building in conjunction with downtown’s growing Final Fridays arts series.
“I’m as excited as heck about the potential,” said Logan, who plans to keep the Abe & Jake’s name for the business.
As it is currently structured, the lease with the city has a series of automatic renewals that could allow Compton and Logan to control the property into 2087. The terms of the city’s lease with Elwell essentially gave Elwell the right to sell his interests in the lease to another party.
The lease with the city calls for the tenant of the building to pay $4,800 per year related to use of the city-owned parking garage that is adjacent to the building. The tenant also is responsible for all property taxes, insurance and utilities.
City commissioners will discuss the proposed lease transfer at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday at City Hall.