Fixing streets to help a project that is saving old East Lawrence buildings sounded like a good trade to city commissioners on Tuesday night.
Lawrence city commissioners unanimously agreed to approve more than $800,000 worth of street improvements and other construction-related expenses to upgrade the area around the recently renovated Poehler Lofts building near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets.
The proposed improvements are designed to assist a renovation of the Cider Building, 810 Pennsylvania St., that developer Tony Krsnich is working to convert into an arts and events gallery.
“The buildings in that area were really destined for the landfill,” said City Commissioner Aron Cromwell. “It has been a tremendous accomplishment to save them.”
Krsnich has renovated the multi-story Poehler grocery warehouse building into a 49-unit, rent-controlled apartment building. Work is underway to convert the adjacent Cider Building into a destination-style art gallery that will house everything from local to international artists.
The space will double as an events gallery for wedding receptions and other functions. The project is part of a larger effort for what Krsnich is calling the Warehouse Arts District. Another building along Pennsylvania Street, commonly called the Seedco building, has been converted into an arts incubator building that provide low-cost studio space for everything from artists to a recording studio.
But Krsnich also confirmed that he hopes to expand on the residential component of the district as well. Krsnich said he intends to apply next month for federal tax credits that would help fund a 34-unit apartment building for the area. The project would be just south of the current Poehler building.
The new building, if it successfully emerges from the tax credit competition, also would be a rent-controlled project and would involve a partnership with Lawrence-based Tenants to Homeowners.
Tuesday’s approval from the City Commission is designed to provide a boost for the entire district. Among the improvements approved are:
• $263,000 to rehabilitate Pennsylvania Street between Eighth and Ninth streets with new brick pavers.
• $279,000 to reconstruct Ninth Street from Delaware to Pennsylvania streets and to improve the intersections of Eighth and Pennsylvania, Ninth and Pennsylvania and Ninth and Delaware.
• $111,000 for stormwater improvements.
• $123,000 for new parking on Pennsylvania and Eighth streets, new sidewalks and pedestrian lighting.
“Pennsylvania is in really rough repair right now,” Krsnich said. “We think they’ll be important improvements to make when we’re asking groups from Kansas City to use the facility, when we are asking artists from New York to show at the building.”
Krsnich hopes to have the art gallery/event space open in the next two months.
“I think it is going to end up being an iconic area for the city of Lawrence,” Mayor Bob Schumm said.