Archive for Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Town Talk: Deal to build 1,000-bedroom apartment complex at Gaslight Village Mobile Home Park falls through; speculation grows Menards looking at site for retail development

November 7, 2012


News and notes from around town:

• The mobile homes already are largely gone, but so too is a deal that would have converted Gaslight Mobile Home Village east of 31st and Iowa streets into a large new apartment community for university students.

A developer with the Texas-based group that was planning the project has confirmed to me the deal has fallen apart.

Now, speculation is growing that at least a portion of the approximately 40-acre mobile home park is set to become a major new retail development.

So far, I can tell you there is some smoke to that rumor. And you know what they say … where there is smoke, there usually is Chad Lawhorn doing a home improvement project that has caught something on fire. Which of course means that I have to go back to Home Depot to get more supplies.

But if this rumor comes to fruition, Home Depot may not be my only option. At the moment, the totally unconfirmed speculation is that Menards has an interest in locating its chain of big box home improvement centers next door to the Home Depot that is at 31st and Iowa streets.

Again, it is all unconfirmed, but there are two interesting developments that make this worthy of at least keeping an eye on. They are:

— The property no longer is set to become a 1,000-bedroom student apartment community. Even though Austin, Texas-based development company Aspen Heights received all the necessary land use approvals to build the major apartment community, the company is no longer interested. The reason? It feels like its market is drying up in Lawrence.

“Regrettably, the university’s enrollment numbers haven’t been strong, and they’re not anticipated to be strong in the near future,” said Charlie Vatterott, executive vice president of development for Aspen Heights. “We were very excited about that market at one time, but we have tempered that excitement.”

As a result, Aspen Heights never finalized its purchase of the Gaslight property from its longtime owners, an Edwardsville-based management company.

— I contacted an officer with the Edwardsville company that owns the mobile home park, and he made statements that led me to believe there may be some truth to the idea that retail development of the site is being contemplated.

“It would be premature for me to say at this time,” Tom Horner III said when I asked him directly whether he was discussing a deal to convert the property to a retail use.

Horner, though, said he may have information to share in the next 30 to 60 days.

For what it is worth, the Aspen Heights executive I talked with said he had heard the same rumors that I had about retail development being a strong possibility for that site.

In short, I’m pretty confident the idea of retail development on the Gaslight property is drawing strong consideration from several players. What I am less confident in is whether Menards is the leading candidate to bring a deal forward. I’ve heard it from multiple people, but that may be more wishful thinking rather than direct knowledge.

A Menards deal in Lawrence, though, would fit with what the home improvement retailer has been doing. Menards recently opened stores in Salina, Manhattan, Topeka, and St. Joseph, Mo., in addition to having two stores in Wichita. The Kansas market is on the company’s radar.

Locating a big box retail store at that site — which, if you are not familiar with it, is directly east of Home Depot — won’t be a cut-and-dried matter at City Hall. The property is zoned for medium-density apartment development.

Furthermore, the city’s long-range planning documents don’t call for retail development on that site. They call for medium density apartment developments.

The site also has a history of neighbors opposing retail development on the property. Years ago when the Home Depot/Best Buy development was proposed, several neighborhood groups argued against the proposal. One of the compromises brought forward was that retail development would be limited to just the 31st and Iowa intersection and would not stretch farther to the east.

But that was an entirely different City Commission with a different set of politics. It will be interesting to watch how commissioners react to any retail proposal that comes forward. If a plan is filed before the April City Commission elections, you can count on this becoming a big political issue.

All of this also appears to be another sign that the intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway needs some type of boost to spur development at that location. Remember, the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the SLT already has two lots that are approved and shovel-ready for big box development.

But if this rumor is true, this will be at least the second big box store that has determined it is not interested in the site. When officials with Lowe’s Home Improvement Center previously were looking at Lawrence, the company said the Sixth and SLT site was too far removed from residential neighborhoods.

Lowe’s ended up wiggling off the hook here in Lawrence. They halted expansion plans after one site near Sixth and Folks Road was rejected by the city and before consideration could begin on a site near Sixth and Congressional.

Losing Lowe’s ended up being a disappointment for several city commissioners. If Menards is actually interested in the city, I think commissioners will want to close this deal.

But if the city invests $25 million to build a regional recreation center just north of the Sixth and the SLT intersection, how much pressure will commissioners be under to direct all big box development to that intersection?

It will be interesting to see if commissioners play hardball and try to direct development to an intersection they have big plans for, or whether they cede to the desires of the big box companies.

So, we’ll see if more smoke emerges on this rumor. (Smoke from something is likely. I am working on an electrical project this weekend.)


cheeseburger 5 years, 6 months ago

I'd welcome Menards, but not necessarily right next door to Home Depot. That's a sure-fire way to guarantee one of them will fail. Too bad they wouldn't consider the northern part of town, or even North Lawrence.

One thing is for sure: The city commission and staff, the special interest people, and other obstructionists will do all in their power to frustrate and discourage Menards officials from locating here. That is as predictable as the sun rising in the east tomorrow.

average 5 years, 6 months ago

If they pull a permit for one of the several lots already zoned for big box retail, they can start turning dirt before the end of the year.

If no one has any intention of following the regional planning designs, we should stop paying to promulgate the silly things.

otto 5 years, 6 months ago

I see Colony woods apt's listed in the forclosures so apartment ownership must not be that great or they just sucked anyway.

Bassetlover 5 years, 6 months ago

Thank you, Jesus, the apartment deal fell through! Last thing we need in this community is more apartments. The overall vacancy rate in all the apartment complexes combined is ridiculously high. It simply makes no sense to continue to build them. That monstrosity out on West 6th and K-10 is so insanely huge it needs it's own zip code. Please, make it stop!!!!

newtongirl 5 years, 6 months ago

“Regrettably, the university’s enrollment numbers haven’t been strong, and they’re not anticipated to be strong in the near future,” said Charlie Vatterott, executive vice president of development for Aspen Heights. “We were very excited about that market at one time, but we have tempered that excitement.”

What he really means is they came in and actually looked at the property and found out that 6th/Wak is where it's at for sexy new things and KU doesn't have a million students like UT so there's too many apartments in Lawrence for a less than par location to do well.

tomatogrower 5 years, 6 months ago

And the rents do not play into supply and demand. Where's the free market, conservatives? Rents should be dropping like a lead balloon. The first tax reform that needs to happen is limiting what landlords can declare as loses, so it isn't ok to let an apartment go empty rather than lower the rent.

Catalano 5 years, 6 months ago

I think this is one of those "let the market decide" things. Too bad the CC already decided on the rezoning and kicking out the mobile home residents before the market "decided" this wasn't such a cool idea, after all.

CHEEZIT 5 years, 6 months ago

How can you be called a developer and an idiot in the same sentence? Obviously they are doing something right!!!

jhawkinsf 5 years, 6 months ago

Not my land, but I wouldn't mind if they cleared the trash and then just let it be.

pizzapete 5 years, 6 months ago

Apparently these out of down developers don't know how this game is played. If the apartment complex isn't economically feasible at this time you're supposed to ask the city for a 20 year tax abatement, a special tax district, a three story parking garage, and a roundabout. Come on guys, get with the program.

tomatogrower 5 years, 6 months ago

These developers are stupid. And Brownback wants us to be like Texas. I say stay out of Kansas.

JackMcKee 5 years, 6 months ago

Guess the developers haven't taken into account the exponential growth that's coming from Brownback's tax plan.

irvan moore 5 years, 6 months ago

maybe they can build the new law enforcement center there, kinda handy having it accross the street from those apartments

truemother 5 years, 6 months ago

I would like to see AFFORDABLE housing put in there. There are soooo many apartments, but nothing truly affordable in Lawrence. There are a lot designed for college living, how about familes.

The city should get more involved with the apartment planning and condemning. They would realize what Lawrence REALLY needs to help families.

Maybe other landlords should take note and listen to their current tenants,. Don't make them think its best to leave things unsaid. It eventually costs the OWNER big time.

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