Developer hopes popular project sparks east Lawrence renaissance

The Poehler loft apartment project in east Lawrence boasts a putting green for its tenants. The building, which will have an open house Friday, is fully leased already and has a waiting list that’s about 70 people long.

Developer Tony Krsnich was pretty confident he was on to something last year when he started converting the 1904 Poehler Grocery Warehouse in east Lawrence into a 49-unit apartment building.

Late last month, when he officially opened the building for tenants to start signing leases, he was sure of it.

“We leased the whole building in 12 hours,” Krsnich said. “And we have a waiting list of about 70 people.”

Now, Krsnich hopes to show the rest of the community what he thinks is the beginning of a renaissance for an old east Lawrence warehouse district.

Krsnich has scheduled an open house and ribbon cutting for his $9 million Poehler Loft Apartment project for 5 p.m. Friday at 619 E. Eighth St.

“I hope we have a thousand people show up for the open house, and I hope hundreds of them come up to me with ideas about how we can do even more in this area,” Krsnich said.

He also hopes people will take time to notice the apartments. The project is an unusual one for Lawrence because the bulk of the 49 apartments are rent-controlled by the state, a requirement for the project to access state tax credits that were used to finance construction.

The result is that brand new one-bedroom apartments start at $425 per month, while two-bedrooms start at $650 per month. Most tenants do have to meet some income guidelines to live at the complex.

“Some of these units would have a market rent rate of nearly $2,000 a month, and I promise you won’t notice a difference in quality between these and those,” said Krsnich, who previously gained recognition for converting the rundown Chatham Hotel building in Kansas City, Mo., into a senior apartment complex.

Visitors to the Poehler building will notice it has a different feel from most other apartment buildings in the city. Three of the four floors of the building have ceilings that expose the huge, wooden timbers used in early 20th century construction. Brick walls also are left exposed, and Krsnich has kept many unique features — like the large built-in safe — that were used when the building served as one of the larger grocery warehouses in the state.

Krsnich said the historical elements of the building have been a factor in attracting strong interest from renters but not the only factor.

“I think people really like that there is a creative culture over here,” said Krsnich, who estimated the average age of tenants in the building was 30 and that artist and musician were the most common professions.

Future developments are expected to center on making the area an arts district. Krsnich already has begun to brand the area near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets as the Warehouse Arts District.

Krsnich and his investors have begun work to convert the late 1800s-era Ciderworks Building, 812 Pa., into an art gallery and event space. In addition, about a dozen artists have set up studios in an adjacent warehouse building just south of Eighth and Pennsylvania streets.

“We believe we’ll have the same type of success with the arts and event space as we have had with the apartments,” Krsnich said. “We’ve already booked several weddings for 2013 in the cider building. They’ve all been KU alums from Kansas City who have been looking for a cool venue in Lawrence.”

The success of the apartments, though, also has Krsnich looking at options to build a new apartment development near the Eighth and Pennsylvania intersection. Krsnich already owns the vacant lot at the southwest corner of the intersection, but he said he’s also exploring options for property that is farther south of the intersection.

Friday’s open house is scheduled to include a ribbon cutting and remarks from various local and state officials from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. The city provided $1.39 million worth of public infrastructure improvements and other incentives to assist the Poehler project.

The event also will feature five separate art shows in buildings near the Eighth and Pennsylvania intersection.