Archive for Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Conference center plans underway for downtown Lawrence site

June 24, 2014


Plans are in the works to convert one of downtown Lawrence’s larger pieces of property into a conference center surrounded by a hotel, apartments, retail development and an open-air plaza.

Leaders of The World Company announced Monday they are in the process of selecting a development firm to assist in redeveloping the former site of the Journal-World’s printing plant at 609 New Hampshire St.

“Rather than sell to a developer and wash our hands of the property, we feel this is an opportunity to make a significant, positive impact on the future of Lawrence,” said Dolph C. Simons Jr., chairman of The World Company, which publishes the Journal-World and “I want this to be special for Lawrence. It could be a signature development for Lawrence.”

The project would involve demolishing the Journal-World printing plant, which stopped printing operations earlier this year when the printing functions of the Journal-World and USA TODAY were moved to other locations.

The property, which stretches from New Hampshire Street to Massachusetts Street, is at the northern entrance to downtown. Dan Simons, president of the electronics division of The World Company, said the size and prominence of the property make it well suited to a conference center that could attract Kansas University-related conferences and other events.

“We’re not trying to be Bartle Hall and take on the boat show,” Dan Simons said. “This would be a conference center, with the idea that the people coming into town will have a huge economic impact.”

The conference center, however, would be only one element of the project. Concept plans include a hotel, a multistory apartment building that also could house some condominiums, new retail and restaurant space along Massachusetts Street and a plaza area along New Hampshire Street.

“It would be a significant area of open space that could be used by the businesses that ring the square but also by the community,” said Dolph Simons III, president of the newspaper division of the company.

The project also could include a parking garage and surface parking lots on the east side of New Hampshire Street, adjacent to the former Reuter Organ buildings and near where the Journal-World’s parking lot is currently located. The project does not include the current offices of the Journal-World, which are located in the historic News Center building at Seventh and New Hampshire streets.

The project, however, is not yet a done deal. Dolph Simons Jr. said the company has received strong interest from architects and developers who want to be part of the project.

“We hope to finalize negotiations with developers, builders and architects within the next several weeks,” he said. “It will not be a process of six months or so. It will be in the next several weeks.”

At some point, officials with The World Company also will have to submit formal plans for city approval. Dan Simons said the project will include a request for some financial participation from the city, the university or a combination thereof to help fund the conference center portion of the development.

Cost estimates are still being developed for the project, but Dan Simons said the requested amount could be in the $10 million to $15 million range. He estimated the entire project likely will cost about $50 million to build.

Both city and university leaders said the potential for development at the site was exciting, but said they needed to conduct a full feasibility study of how much business a conference center could attract and where its ideal location would be in the community.

Figuring out how the city would financially participate in such a project also will be paramount, said Mayor Mike Amyx. Commissioners currently are in discussions about how to finance a potential $30 million police headquarters.

“We are fortunate that there are locations that can be available today for such a project to exist,” Amyx said. “But on top of everything else, we have to really look at all our priorities. It is a fun project to think about, but there will be a process.”

Tim Caboni, KU’s vice chancellor for public affairs, said the university would rely heavily on a joint feasibility study commissioned by the city and the university. The two parties are close to finalizing a contract with a consulting firm to study the potential demand for a conference center and potential locations. Caboni said he was uncertain how long such a study would take, but said it is possible it might take six months or more for the study to be completed and reviewed.

“We are excited about anything that is good for the city of Lawrence, and this sounds like it would be a terrific development for our community,” Caboni said.

Caboni said university leaders are confident that many academic conferences would like to come to Lawrence, but he said a study is needed to provide a more precise estimate of the demand, and also to provide opinions on how close a conference center should be to the university’s campus.

“We know there is a remarkable marketplace for conferences that want to be near the type of intellectual firepower that we can offer,” Caboni said.

Dan Simons said he believes estimates will show the development will be a significant generator of tax revenue ranging from sales, property and transient guest taxes that can be used to help fund future city projects.

“All of the preliminary numbers we have seen show this will put a lot of money back into the community each and every year,” he said.

The Journal-World has had the property since the mid-1950s, and the Simons family has owned the Journal-World and various other enterprises in the community since 1891.

“We’re fortunate to have a unique piece of property in terms of size and location,” said Dolph Simons III. “With those advantages, we want to make the most of it so it is not just a run-of-the-mill development. We want to go the extra yard to make this really benefit the university and the community. We would like to make this a hallmark of the community.”


Chris Scafe 3 years, 9 months ago

In October when the city takes over residential curbside recycling they will put an end to my eleven business with no compensation to me whatsoever. A small buyout would have allowed me to start another business to benefit the community, but when it came up for a vote our commissioners said no. That vote soured me on using the people's tax dollars to help already rich developers to further concentrate wealth. If they want to build this, let them pay for it. The same applies to Compton's developments.

Melinda Henderson 3 years, 9 months ago

I agree, Chris. You provide a fabulous service to the community and I am going to miss having your business around. You were incredibly helpful for the company I work for in getting materials recycled that the city won't pick up. You have great customer service...I hope you find something else to do that will be a good business for you and also a benefit to Lawrence. Good luck!

Clark Coan 3 years, 9 months ago

The retail storefront part of the building on Mass. should blend in with the rest of Mass. just like the stores across the street.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 9 months ago

These are the same people who were sure the Riverfront Plaza was next to God…….. Riverfront Plaza became a dinosaur quickly.

No big time for profit venture seems exciting if project owners cannot put their money and their money only on the line. Obviously success is apprehensive at best.

Where's the money? Taxpayers Taxpayers Taxpayers Taxpayers Taxpayers Taxpayers

GRAB YOUR WALLETS = where did the fiscal responsible stewards of out tax dollars go? That notion seems to disappear once the elections are over.

Lawrence Morgan 3 years, 9 months ago

This is a great idea. Instead of taxpayers' money going to more and more apartments, the Convention Center is something Lawrence really needs, and it is in just the right location. It will be close to the new Library, and to many things that make Lawrence so special. Perhaps now a bus transfer stop can be built at the railway station, a real transfer station - with a walk, shops and things to eat- a real plus for that part of town.

Dolph C. Simons, Jr. and Dan Simons, you are right on with this project.

Now, if only the Journal-World were turned into a foundation, so that it could produce news of Lawrence and Kansas for the future, it would be a perfect combination.

And we need to replace the mayor - this is much more than a "fun" project. It is very important for Lawrence's future.

The other important thing Lawrence needs is jobs. decent-paying jobs. It appears that this city commission is unable to do anything in that regard - they mostly want apartments, which is not what Lawrence needs now.

Brian Hall 3 years, 9 months ago

Bleeding Kansas museum? You mean the Freedom's Frontier Museum in the Carnegie Library? There is also an exhibit at Watkins. There are also two museums in Lecompton focusing on Bleeding Kansas.

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