Plans have been filed at City Hall for a new retail development that would add more than 20 new stores and restaurants along the South Lawrence Trafficway.
An out-of-state development group has filed plans for a vacant 160 acres near the southeast corner of Iowa Street and the unfinished South Lawrence Trafficway.
Developers have secured an option to purchase the property, and have been shopping the site to national retailers for several months.
“When we started marketing this, we got a very strong and positive response from national retailers,” said Chris Challis, a broker working on the project with Florida-based Collett & Associates and Oklahoma-based Sooner Investments.
A concept plan filed at City Hall shows spaces for 10 large retailers ranging in size from 74,000 square feet to about 10,000 square feet. In addition, the plans show 11 outlying lots that would ring the property and could accommodate restaurants or smaller retailers.
The site is the same location that was proposed to house a controversial suburban mall — dubbed the “cornfield mall” — in the late 1980s. The recent concept plan filed at City Hall doesn’t call for a mall. It instead resembles a more traditional shopping center, such as the Pine Ridge Plaza that houses Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, TJ Maxx and other retailers.
The plan calls for a 74,000-square-foot anchor tenant, which, for comparison purposes, is about the size of the Kohl’s store in Lawrence. The plan also has space for 56,000- and 51,000-square-foot stores. Other larger spaces include 30,000-, 25,000- and 17,000-square-foot retail buildings. For comparison purposes, TJ Maxx and Bed Bath & Beyond are both in that 25,000 square foot range.
Challis said the development group will work hard to bring in new types of retailers to Lawrence, specifically those that have been drawing Lawrence shoppers to Johnson or Shawnee counties.
“What we do best is create regional drawing-power shopping centers,” Challis said.
Challis, though, said the development group understands that in Lawrence it will require a balancing act to make sure a new development doesn’t harm the health of downtown.
“We understand that everyone wants to preserve the great Main Street that Massachusetts Street is,” Challis said.
That likely will be a key consideration as the project works its way through the City Hall approval process. The City Commission ultimately will decide whether to grant the necessary land use approvals.
The size of the project is likely to cause some community members to question whether the city’s retail market is healthy enough to absorb such a major expansion. Challis said his group will note that many retailers are eager to get into the Lawrence market because they see the amount of shopping that Lawrence residents do in Johnson and Shawnee counties.
The project — which technically would be located on 166 acres, but about 45 acres would be designated as open space due to floodplain considerations — could be heard as soon as May by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. Consideration by the Lawrence City Commission would follow. Challis said the group would like to have the center ready to open by the time the trafficway is completed in 2016.