Plans for major retail development heating up in southern, northwestern parts of Lawrence

Rumblings of major new retail development in Lawrence are growing louder, and they’re coming from opposite corners of the community.

Revised plans have been filed at City Hall for a major retail development southeast of the South Lawrence Trafficway and Iowa Street intersection, with the latest plans showing space set aside for a hotel, a specialty grocery store and spots for at least 10 other large retailers.

At the same time, a group led by members of the Schwada and Fritzel families have signed a new deal with a Kansas City-based real estate company to help jumpstart a long-planned commercial development in northwest Lawrence near the Rock Chalk Park sports complex.

What hasn’t emerged, yet, are names of retailers who have committed to come to Lawrence. Chris Challis, a development manager with the out-of-state group proposing the south Lawrence project said he does have commitments from some retailers that he hopes to announce soon.

“We feel very good with where we stand with our tenants and their commitment to the project,” Challis said. “We’re not speculators. We are a tenant-driven retail group.”

The northwest Lawrence project — dubbed Mercato — does not yet have any tenant commitments, and that is why the development group has brought on the LANE4 Property Group, which has expertise in marketing large retail projects.

“I personally think the next major retail node should be on the west side of town to ensure that we have balanced growth in the community,” said Pat Peery, a Lawrence resident who is a principal with LANE4 Property Group. “And I think (Rock Chalk Park) is going to work the way it is designed, and that will put a lot of families at the doorstep of retailers.”

The Mercato development is slated for property directly south of Rock Chalk Park, or near the intersection of Sixth Street and George Williams Way.

Peery said the Mercato development doesn’t have any retailers who have committed to the project, but he said he has had “good conversations” with retailers recently. What Mercato does have is some retail zoning already in place. The property has zoning in place for about 250,000 square feet of commercial development. The proposed development in south Lawrence will have to go through the city’s full zoning process.

But the Mercato development has not been successful in finding a major retailer to be a pioneer for the new shopping area. The property has been approved for retail development since 2007, and recently projects such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, PetSmart, Ross Dress 4 Less and Menards all have chosen to locate on south Iowa Street.

“Retailers like to be located next to other retailers,” Challis said. “South Iowa Street has been the established retail destination in this market for a long time. Everybody is thinking synergistically these days.”

But Peery said the northwest Lawrence area is starting to see housing growth accelerate again, which will help draw retailers. Plus, he said the Rock Chalk Park complex makes the area a natural gateway to the community.

“When you look at where Lawrence is going to grow, west is really the answer,” Peery said. “We think retailers ultimately will decide that.”

Both groups declined to comment on whether they think the community is large enough for both retail developments. City commissioners likely will be asked to approve rezoning issues for the south Lawrence project later this year. Peery said it is possible the Mercato project may file plans to amend its development plans as well.

As for the most recent changes in the south Lawrence project, they are mainly driven by new road alignments proposed for the project. The development — which would be on 123 acres immediately southeast of the SLT/Iowa Street interchange — was first proposed in March. The most recent changes, however, provide more details about potential users.

The plans call for 410,600 square feet of general retail development, 42,600 square feet of restaurant space and a 160,000 square-foot, 200-room hotel. Or another way to look at the development is that plans show spaces for 11 retailers ranging from 62,000 square feet to 8,000 square feet. It also shows spaces for about a dozen restaurants or smaller retailers.

One of the major retail spaces is designated for a specialty grocery company. Challis said the development is in advanced discussions with a specialty grocer.

“We’re committed to having a grocery at this center,” Challis said. “We’ve had interest from more than one.”

Challis said a “national brand hotel operator” currently is doing a market feasibility study for the hotel portion of the project and should make a decision soon on whether to proceed.

“We’re really excited about the project,” Challis said. “It is drawing a lot of excitement because of the pending completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway.”