News and notes from around town:
• It has been said in the car business that you have to sell the sizzle. If that is so, the folks at the Briggs Auto Group are looking to cook with an acetylene torch at the Lawrence Auto Plaza on South Iowa Street. (Heaven help me if my wife ever figures out what an acetylene torch is.)
Officials for Briggs have filed plans at City Hall that would allow the company to install a wind turbine on the median of West 29th Terrace, and to use significant amounts of city right-of-way as display areas for vehicle sales.
The plan calls for basically the entire median on West 29th Terrace — that is the road that runs down the center of the Auto Plaza, with Briggs on one side and Jack Ellena Honda on the other — to become an area where new vehicles for sale could be parked. Vehicle advertising signs also would be allowed to be attached to the street poles in the median.
But the centerpiece of the median plan is a wind turbine (I’m not sure how tall it would be) located about midway down 29th Terrace. Presumably the wind turbine would be used to provide some of the electricity for the Auto Plaza — which is just north of the 31st and Iowa area.
It looks like the plan also wants to use some right-of-way along Iowa Street. Drawings show a large new monument sign that would be designed in a way that new vehicles could be parked atop it.
I haven’t yet had a chance to talk with the folks at Briggs, so as I get more details I’ll pass them along. But this plan clearly continues a trend for Manhattan-based Briggs to make the Lawrence market a major part of its business in the future.
The company already has built a new showroom for its Subaru dealership, has filed plans at City Hall for a $1.5 million showroom along Iowa Street for its Nissan dealership. That new building will be where its Dodge/Chrysler dealership is today. I’ve been told that Briggs has plans to build a new showroom for the Dodge/Chrysler dealership in the western end of the Auto Plaza in the near future.
The Briggs folks have submitted quite a few computer-generated renderings to give City Hall leaders an idea of what the area would look like. Click here to see for yourself.
City commissioners are scheduled to be briefed on the project at their Feb. 21 meeting. It will be interesting to see their reaction. Auto sales can be a big part of a local economy, but this plan also is the type that could set some precedents for how much commercial use is allowed in city rights-of-way. After all, pretty much every car dealer in Lawrence has right-of-way along a busy city street, and I dare you to find an industry in Lawrence that is any more competitive that new vehicle sales.
• While we’re talking about auto sales, we might as well hop across the street to Dale Willey’s Chevrolet and General Motors dealership. That showroom already has been completely redone, but more work is underway. Willey is tearing down a portion of the self-storage units behind the dealership to make room for a new detail shop. It also looks like the project will allow for the dealership’s used car lot to expand some as well.
Next to the apartment business, the car dealership business has been one of the more active markets for area construction over the last couple of years. Willey, Ellena Honda, Crown, and Briggs all have undertaken projects in the recent past. And as we have previously reported, Laird Noller’s Hyundai dealership on South Iowa is undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation.
I don’t know whether it was cash-for-clunkers or low interest rates or just nagging spouses, but it appears something has caused folks to start buying cars again.
• Cars and homes don’t always mix (or at least when I ran into the house with a car once, I didn’t seem to think it was that great of a combination) but sometimes they do. The Lawrence Home Show is going to give the combo a try. The Home Show — sponsored by the Lawrence Home Builders Association — will be Friday, Saturday and Sunday and will be at a new location this year. The show is slated for Crown Automotive at 3430 S. Iowa St. The show will run from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
About 70 exhibitors are scheduled to show at the event, and expect a heavy emphasis on remodeling options and trends since many home builders have had to make the shift from building new homes to focusing on remodeling projects. There is a $5 entrance fee for adults, although it looks like you can print a $2 off coupon at the show’s web site at lawrencehomeshow.com.
• The chess moves continue with the proposal to build a multi-story hotel/apartment building on the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. Several residents of the East Lawrence neighborhood showed up at last night’s City Commission meeting to ask the city to formally begin a “district plan” for the downtown area.
The plan would take a look in particular at the New Hampshire and Vermont street corridors and spell out where large, multi-story buildings could be constructed in the future. The idea of a district plan for downtown isn’t a new one. Former architecture professor Dennis Domer called for such a plan when the J-W talked to him in November about the future of tall buildings in downtown.
Any plan like would need to take a hard look at what the future of the city-owned surface parking lots will be. As on neighbor said last night, he views those lots that line New Hampshire and Vermont as future development sites in “cold storage.”
Domer — in the previous article, he wasn’t there last night — suggested that a study may show that Vermont Street has much more potential for larger, taller, more dense buildings than New Hampshire Street. That’s because Vermont has fewer homes that directly abut it.
But here’s the interesting twist. Some neighbors are now saying that the Ninth and New Hampshire hotel/apartment development — which has sparked a lot of opposition from neighbors to the east — should be put on hold until the district plan is completed. That is the sort of idea that will draw opposition from the development community, who likely would point to it as an example of the city changing its rules during the middle of the game.
City commissioners didn’t comment on the idea of creating a district plan, in part because the idea wasn’t on their actual agenda. Neighbors brought the idea forward during the general public comment section of the meeting. The design for the hotel/apartment building — which would be three to six stories tall, depending on which part of the building you’re looking at — is scheduled to be reviewed by the city’s Historic Resources Commission at its Feb. 16 meeting.