East Lawrence developer reaches deal to buy Turnhalle building

The developer behind the Poehler Lofts and the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence has reached a tentative deal to buy the historic Turnhalle building at Ninth and Rhode Island streets.

Developer Tony Krsnich has entered into a contract with the Lawrence Preservation Alliance to purchase the 1869 building, which is considered one of the older public buildings in the city. Now he hopes to come up with a plan in the next 60 days for how to use the building.

“I’m not entirely sure yet, but I have a lot of ideas,” Krsnich said of the property, which is just a couple blocks away from his growing Warehouse Arts District.

Krsnich said he is not considering converting the building into living units. Rather, he would like to find a use that has at least some tie to when the building served as the headquarters for the local chapter of the Turnverein, a German-American social club that used the building for everything from a drinking spot to a site for its frequent gymnastics competitions.

The possibilities are numerous, Krsnich said. For example, he said he learned that at one point the basement of the building had two bowling lanes and a beer garden. He thinks the community may take to that type of use again. The main floor is designed to house a gymnastics studio, Krsnich said, but the stage and balcony on the main floor could also lend themselves to performance space. The building also is essentially across the street from the Lawrence Farmers’ Market, so Krsnich wants to explore the possibility of having indoor market space available, or perhaps an eatery that features fresh food.

“I think we’ll have a chance to talk about some really unique uses,” Krsnich said. “We want to see what we can come up with.”

He hopes to determine a proposed use for the building within 60 days. His contract with LPA gives him 60 days to conduct due diligence on the building before the deal becomes final.

Other terms of the contract, including the purchase price, were not disclosed. LPA purchased the building in September 2012 because it feared the old stone structure was in jeopardy of deteriorating to a point beyond repair.

Dennis Brown, president of the LPA, said the alliance will not recoup the full amount of money it has invested in the building, but the LPA’s board unanimously agreed to sell the building to Krsnich.

“It is the biggest thing that LPA has ever done, and I don’t know what is in second place,” Brown said. “We’re thrilled and relieved to be at this point.”

The organization spent a little more than $170,000 on the rehabilitation of the building, which included a new roof, structural repairs, foundation work and drainage improvements, said Mike Goans, an LPA board member and volunteer project manager for the effort.

Krsnich said he now expects to spend upwards of $1 million on bringing the property into a top-notch usable condition. Krsnich — who is noted in Lawrence for converting the old Poehler warehouse building into loft-style apartments and converting another East Lawrence industrial building into an art and events gallery — uses a variety of historic tax credits and other such mechanisms to help finance his projects.

Krsnich said he likely will have to ask for some city assistance, especially when it comes to parking variances. He said the site would be challenged to meet the parking standard for typical commercial developments. Krsnich said failing to secure variances to the city’s parking code likely would cause him to void the proposed purchase.

As part of the purchase, Krsnich will have to agree to a preservation easement that will protect several historic elements of the property. Brown said those include preservation of windows, the balcony, stage and several other features of the building. Krsnich said that won’t be a problem.

“I love the history of this building,” Krsnich said. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what this building must have been like 100 years ago.”

Brown said LPA members are excited to see how the building may look in the coming years.

“I think about where Turnhalle would be today without LPA, and there would be no tenant, no plan and probably a caved-in roof on parts of the building,” Brown said. “I think we have saved the building, but it still has to become a vital building. We’re counting on Tony and his group to come up with a plan to do that.”