News and notes from around town:
• The hammer and saw have been busy at the old Poehler building in east Lawrence. Work to convert the multistory, 1904 grocery warehouse into about 50 apartments is about 30 percent complete. A new roof is already on the building, damaged trusses have been replaced, a new elevator shaft installed, and the fourth floor has new Sheetrock, plumbing and electrical.
Developer Tony Krsnich said the $9 million project is scheduled to begin leasing apartments by July 1. All but two of the apartments will be rent-controlled units to meet a state requirement that allowed the project to be partially financed by state tax credits.
But even busier than Krsnich’s hammer and saw may be his architectural pen. Krsnich said he will submit plans to City Hall in the next couple of weeks to renovate two other buildings near the Eighth and Pennsylvania area.
Krsnich will file plans to rehabilitate the old “Cider Vinegar Building” just south of Eighth and Pennsylvania streets into a combination artists gallery/event space/small business center. Krsnich also intends to file plans to renovate the building just south of the Cider Vinegar Building — it used to be the home of a T-shirt screen printing company — into additional apartments with a unique artist workshop space in the basement.
The Cider Vinegar Building — it is called such because decades ago it housed the Kansas Fruit Vinegar Co. — will be eclectic. Krsnich thinks the ground floor of the two-story building can be converted into a reception space that can accommodate about 300 people. There will be an outdoor plaza area that he thinks can accommodate another 300 people. But the main function of the space will be to serve as an art gallery. Folks, however, would be able to rent the space for receptions, business socials and other events. But the artwork will remain for those events.
The second floor space would be full of cubicles and small office space. Krsnich said he thinks there’s a demand for small businesses who want a basic base of operations outside their home. He envisions renting office space with walls and a door for about $400 per month, or if somebody just wants a cubicle to call home, that likely would be about $250 a month. Krsnich is estimating the second floor could accommodate about 25 office units.
In the T-shirt building, Krsnich is planning to put about dozen two- to four-bedroom apartments on the ground floor of the old industrial space. The basement of the building would become a wide open, largely unfinished space for artists to work on their creations. Krsnich said artists who live in the apartments would get a deeply discounted rate on studio space, but he said studio space also would be open to artists who don’t live in the apartments.
The projects continue a trend of the old industrial area getting a second look by developers. As we’ve previously reported, the old Standard Oil building on the south end of the block has development plans pending. It will be interesting to watch how much of an investment city officials are willing to make in the area.
The City Commission late last year authorized about $1.3 million worth of incentives and public improvements to help with the $9 million Poehler renovation. The city is set to start next month an $800,000 rebuilding of Delaware Street from Eighth to Ninth streets, for example.
But both of these two buildings that Krsnich hopes to renovate are on Pennsylvania Street, which is in poor condition. It will be worth watching whether these projects spur a request for more public improvements and city incentives. What happens probably will be a good indicator of whether city leaders have bought into the idea that the arts can be a significant part of the city’s economy.
• Speaking of the economy, about 40 community and business leaders gathered at the Lied Center this morning to eat some sausage and bacon and eggs and sweet rolls and — oh yeah — listen to some predictions for the economy in 2012. (My prediction is tailors who can let out waist lines may do well.)
The event, sponsored by the KU Credit Union, featured Tim Cowden, senior vice president of the Kansas City Area Development Council, and City Commissioner Mike Dever. Here’s a look at their predictions. From Cowden:
- Look for U.S. manufacturing to gain some strength. The big term in this sector is “reshoring,” as opposed to off-shoring. Perhaps it is just wishful thinking, but several national economic development leaders are predicting companies that have offshored their work may now be rethinking those decisions. There are wage inflation pressures in China and India, Cowden noted, that may change the cost equation a bit.
- Expect growth in information technology jobs. Kansas City already has received a commitment from NetSmart Technologies to move its headquarters from New York to the Kansas City area. NetSmart will produce 500 jobs for the area, and is expected to announce where it will land specifically in the KC Metro area in the next few days, Cowden said. In addition, KDAC is in discussions with another company that would add 700 IT jobs to the region.
- Be open to warehouses. During the economic downturn, companies have allowed their logistics systems to become stretched thin. Now, Cowden said, hope of increased consumer confidence has them expanding their delivery systems. KDAC currently is in discussions with three potential warehouse type projects: one that would need 250,000 square feet of space, another 500,000 square feet and one that would need a whopping 2 million square feet of space.
“I know there are areas that don’t want warehouses, but it really is a big deal for Kansas City,” Cowden said.
- An increased emphasis on city planning. Dever said he still thinks the city needs to fight the perception that its development process is too difficult. “It doesn’t mean we have to just step aside and let people do everything they want, but we need to learn how to say ‘maybe’ instead of just saying ‘no.’”
- Continued cooperation with Kansas University. Dever cited the bioscience and technology incubator, which is now completely filled, as an example of how the university and economic development leaders can work together.
- Increased activity at the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant. The city intends to convert the more than 400 acres at the site into a business and industrial park. Planning and some infrastructure construction is expected to begin this year on the property, which suffered from years of nitrogen fertilizer contamination.
“I know there are people who really questioned why we would take on this piece of property,” Dever said. “But I can tell you as an environmental consultant, I think it will end up being one of the best investments this community ever makes. I think that site is going to be a real windfall for the community.”