The stage is set for a home improvement center battle in Lawrence.
A Menards home improvement center won the necessary city land use approvals Tuesday evening for a nearly 190,000-square-foot store and outdoor lumber yard just east of the Home Depot at 31st and Iowa streets.
“This looks like a very good project to me, and I think it is a development that the city can support,” City Commissioner Mike Amyx said.
The approvals put the store on track to begin construction in 2014 and perhaps open by the spring of 2015, Tyler Edwards, a real estate representative for Menards, told commissioners.
A majority of city commissioners rejected concerns that the city’s retail market is being overbuilt and that the large new store would increase vacancy rates of existing retail development.
“I see the economy improving,” said City Commissioner Terry Riordan. “I think this is the time to allow this type of development to occur.”
City Commissioner Bob Schumm was the lone vote against the project. He expressed concerns that city residents' income hasn't grown enough in the past decade to give them more money to spend on retail. That causes him to worry that major new development will come at the expense of existing retailers.
“I have to be concerned with the entire city,” Schumm said.
The concerns were the same expressed by Kirk McClure, a Kansas University professor of urban planning and the only member of the public to speak against the project Tuesday night. The city’s planning staff also produced a report that raised questions about whether the city’s retail market is becoming overbuilt.
But commissioners and other staff members said they were seeing no signs on the ground, such as blighted retail areas, that would suggest the city’s retail market is over-saturated.
“I’m just not seeing the symptom that we’re trying to cure here,” City Manager David Corliss told commissioners.
Amyx said it was important to remember that McClure and others previously predicted that a new Wal-Mart on West Sixth Street would run a nearby Dillons store out of business. Instead, the Dillons store expanded.
“I obviously lost that immediate bet,” McClure said when challenged on the point by Amyx.
Commissioners did, however, question the Menards official on why the company was not willing to locate on property already zoned for retail development. Edwards said the other sites in the city simply didn’t produce either the traffic or the visibility that the South Iowa Street corridor offered.
“When you do your shopping in Lawrence, you go down to South Iowa Street,” Edwards said.
In other business, commissioners unanimously agreed to temporarily relocate the city’s public transit hub to the 700 block of Vermont Street. The move is expected to take place in the next several weeks as construction begins on a new hotel in the Ninth and New Hampshire area, home of the current transit hub.
The hub likely will remain in the 700 block of Vermont, across from the library, for about a year, while the city looks for a permanent location.