At Lawrence City Hall, 2013 won’t quite be the year where the rubber meets the road — at least not on the uncompleted portion of the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Tires are expected to start spinning on that road in 2016.
But 2013 will be the year when crews start building the final leg of the SLT, and city leaders said now is the time to start planning for its impacts.
Specifically, City Hall will be gearing up for what some city commissioners believe will be a renewed interest in the city as a location for new industry and business.
“In terms of economic development, the fact that that road is being constructed will demonstrate to businesses that an extraordinary opportunity is on the way,” Mayor Bob Schumm said.
The Kansas Department of Transportation has said the construction of the southern bypass is expected to begin in September or October. The road — which will complete the connection between Interstate 70 west of Lawrence with Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence — is expected to be completed by Fall 2016.
The lengthy construction period will give city officials time to begin work on converting the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant into a new business and industrial park. The 400-plus acre property will be just a bit west of the eastern interchange for the SLT.
“The timing on this is incredible,” said City Commissioner and Vice Mayor Mike Dever — who is slated to become mayor in April, if city commissioners to stick to the tradition of electing the vice mayor to a one-year term as mayor. “There will be people looking for ways to cash in on the economic development potential of this road, and we’ll have one for them.”
The city in 2012 began clearing old buildings and other structures from the Farmland property. In early 2013, the work is expected to begin on new roads and utilities to serve the property. The city has $6 million in its 2013 capital improvements budget to fund infrastructure projects at the property.
Fans of construction will have plenty of other chances to see hammers and saws in action though. Schumm said a major issue of 2013 will be downtown redevelopment. At least three major projects are expected to be underway in downtown in 2013. They are:
• A $19 million expansion of the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St., which includes a public parking garage that will be just south of the library.
• A multi-story hotel and retail building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. The project — which is being developed by a group led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor — will house a Marriott TownPlace extended hotel.
• A seven-story apartment and office building on the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. The project — which also is being developed by the Compton-Treanor group — is expected to have about 120 apartments.
“Our goal has been to increase density in downtown,” Schumm said. “I think with more people living downtown, you are going to see demand for a varied type of retail in downtown. You’ll see more businesses aimed at serving the convenience needs of residents.”
A major city project also may come out of the ground in northwest Lawrence. Schumm said work to build a new $25 million regional recreation center — which would be part of a sports park that would house facilities used by Kansas University — could begin construction in 2013.
“I think by mid-to-late February — if we continue to move forward — the agreements will be signed and construction will start very quickly thereafter,” Schumm said. “Hopefully people will be shooting hoops out there by 2014.”
The city currently is in negotiations with the Kansas University Endowment Association and a private company led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel on issues related to the development and operation of the sports park.
Not all issues at Lawrence City Hall will be about projects under construction. Three city commissioners — Commissioners Mike Amyx, Aron Cromwell and Hugh Carter — will have terms that expire in 2013, and voters will go to the polls in April to fill the seats. Carter already has announced he won’t seek re-election, while the other two commissioners haven’t yet made an announcement.
Commissioners also are expected to tackle the issue of water and sewer rates. Specifically, commissioners need to decide whether they want to spend money — perhaps millions of dollars — for new equipment to address occasional but significant taste and odor issues with the city’s drinking water.
That decision, though, will be dwarfed by the city’s decision on whether to proceed with a new sewer treatment plant on a city-owned site south of the Wakarusa River. The plant and its new piping system are expected to cost about $65 million, and rates would need to increase to help pay for the cost.
The plant has been on the drawing board for more than five years, but city leaders have struggled to figure out when is the right time to start the project.
“We need to be very, very careful to not underestimate what our needs are going to be,” Schumm said. “You can get behind the curve on water and wastewater very quickly.”
The other risk, Schumm said, is if the city proceeds with the project too quickly, ratepayers will be paying for extra capacity that is not needed.
Part of the issue, Schumm said, likely will come down to how optimistic commissioners are that the community is poised for another round of significant growth.
Count Schumm as part of the crowd that sees growth on the horizon.
“By the end of this decade but definitely by the next decade, I think we’ll be talking about it being the biggest decade Lawrence has ever had in terms of economic development,” Schumm said.