On paper, at least, Lawrence soon will have 260 new acres to attract more than a dozen industrial and high-tech businesses to town.
Lawrence City Hall leaders are finalizing the master development plan to convert the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant into a business park on the eastern edge of the city.
“We hope to start construction of some infrastructure in the fourth quarter of this year,” said City Manager David Corliss. “We hope by this time next year we’ll be able to not only have infrastructure on the way to being installed, but also have tenants working on projects as well.”
City commissioners took ownership in 2010 of the former fertilizer plant property, which had become environmentally blighted through years of nitrogen fertilizer spills. The entire property is 467 acres, but the proposed master plan leaves, for the time being, two large pieces of ground undeveloped and also devotes significant space to drainage areas, roads and other public infrastructure.
In total, the plan sets aside 260.2 acres over 17 different lots that can be sold to future tenants of the business and industrial park. Among some of the details in the proposed master plan:
• The project would create 17 new lots for businesses to locate. The lots would range in size from 78.9 acres to 3.3 acres. Three of the lots would be greater than 25 acres, while nine would be less than 10 acres.
• The 78.9-acre lot, which is near the center of the Farmland property, could handle a significant industrial user. In addition to being a large lot, it also has a rail spur that runs through the property.
• The Farmland business park — an official name for the project hasn’t been selected yet — will be quite a bit more visible than the adjacent East Hills Business Park. Seven of the 17 proposed lots in the development will have frontage along Kansas Highway 10.
• The main entrance to the park will be at O’Connell Road and 23rd Street. Plans call for the intersection to have a traffic signal. The entrance road to the park would connect with a new east-west frontage road that would be several hundred feet north of K-10. The frontage road would connect to the existing loop road that serves the businesses in the East Hills Business Park.
The new road essentially would create a new entrance into East Hills, allowing motorists to avoid the sometimes dangerous East Hills entrance at the top of the hill on K-10. Corliss said he expects work on the road and the traffic signal to begin in late 2012. Commissioners have $4 million in their 2012 budget to begin infrastructure work at the Farmland site.
• The plan also calls for 19th Street to be connected to the Farmland frontage road, but not right away. The plan labels the 19th Street connection as a future phase. The plan indicates improvements would need to be made to the existing portion of 19th Street before the connection would be prudent.
• The large area on the northern end of the property that is on a bluff overlooking 15th Street isn’t planned for development as part of this plan. The proposed plan also includes a couple of natural areas. Two waterways run through the center of the property. The plan proposes a trail that would run along one of the waterways, which leads to a large detention pond along the northern edge of the property.
The proposed master plan will be presented to the City Commission for approval in the early summer, Corliss said. The approved plan will allow leaders with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce to start marketing the property to potential tenants.
Greg Williams, the new president and CEO of the chamber, said the plan would create a very marketable property. Williams, who oversaw the creation of business parks during his tenure as leader of economic development efforts for the Springfield, Mo., chamber of commerce, said the park would draw interest from large employers.
“The sheer volume of the number of acres is what is really attractive to me,” Williams said. “We obviously will focus our marketing efforts on employers who create the most volume in terms of job opportunities. That is primarily in manufacturing, but there will be other opportunities we’ll look at too.”