The idea of a creating a new Lawrence retirement community in partnership with Kansas University is poised to get its most formal review yet from KU leaders.
KU officials soon will request proposals from development firms interested in a project that could include placing university research space next to a new "intergenerational" neighborhood of retirees and young families.
"The university's position now shows that it is very serious about this idea," Dennis Domer, director of KU's New Cities Initiative, told a crowd at a Lawrence Chamber of Commerce event Tuesday. "And that's very good. KU has to be a part of the formula for this to work."
A request for proposals could be ready for development firms to review by mid-March, Domer said. Exactly what type of project KU will seek, however, is still being formulated, he said.
One proposal, though, already has come forward. As reported in August, leaders with Lane4 Property Group have drawn up preliminary development plans for 60 acres just east and south of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. The concept includes housing for both seniors and young families, medical facilities for people looking to age in place, and an undetermined amount of space for KU researchers.
A nonprofit board full of community and KU officials — dubbed the Campus Village board — has been considering the Lane4 proposal, but now top KU administrators are interested in creating a formal request for proposals, Domer said.
"If the university is going to lend its brand to a project, it has to give others a chance to bring forward ideas," Domer said. "That is great because I think the competition may bring forward new innovation."
Domer said he hopes a project will emerge that creates one of the first "intergenerational" retirement communities in the country. He envisions a neighborhood where young families and retirees live side-by-side, but the neighborhood would have assisted living, memory care and other health facilities to serve residents as they age.
University officials are particularly interested in the concept because of the potential to conduct research on how people age and how society adapts as the population grows older. Domer said more than 15 academic units — ranging from sociology to pharmacy to nursing — are interested in having a research presence in such a neighborhood.
A handful of community leaders also are lobbying KU to become involved in the project because they think it will be good for the city's efforts to become more of a destination for retirees.
"This would be the type of development that would create national headlines for us," said Hugh Carter, vice president of external affairs for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.
University leaders also are being told the project could open up new research grant possibilities for KU. The University of Missouri has a partnership with a private retirement facility in Columbia that includes a research component. Domer said the University of Missouri is receiving significant grant money as a result.
Domer said the topic of how society adapts to an aging population has become an emerging research field as the country's median age is projected to increase in coming decades.
"I'm being bombarded by groups and people interested in this project," Domer said.
He said the university hasn't set a deadline for making a decision on any proposals, but he said he will recommend a timeline of early summer for proposals to be considered. Ultimately, he said, the chancellor's office will be responsible for deciding whether the university wants to move forward on a project.