Lawrence tops Kansas City, nation in key retail property rate

A retail rebound in Lawrence is well underway, according to an annual study that shows the vacancy rate among stores and shops in Lawrence has fallen well below the national average.

A new commercial real estate report by the Lawrence office of Colliers International found that the city’s retail vacancy rate was 3.9 percent at the end of 2014, which is below the national average of about 6.5 percent and below the Kansas City area average of about 8.5 percent.

“It is very tight,” said Marilyn Bittenbender, a senior vice president with Colliers. “The good news is a low vacancy rate shows your economy is doing well, but it also makes it more difficult to attract new companies because you have fewer properties to show them.”

The 3.9 percent citywide vacancy rate was down from 4.4 percent in 2013 and 5.4 percent in 2012. The closely watched downtown retail vacancy rate is even lower at 2.7 percent. The downtown rate, however, is up slightly from 1.8 percent in 2013, mainly because of the recent relocation of Buffalo Wild Wings to South Iowa Street and the closing of M&M Office Supply, both of which have left large buildings empty. The report estimates there is about 35,000 square feet of vacant retail space in downtown.

East 23rd Street had the highest retail vacancy rate in the city at 11.5 percent. South Iowa Street had the largest amount of vacant square footage at about 80,000 square feet, but that accounted for only about a 3.8 percent vacancy rate.

The low vacancy rates will create for an interesting 2015, Bittenbender predicted. There has been interest in building a new retail development southeast of the Iowa Street and South Lawrence Trafficway interchange, but it has not yet won city approval. There also have been efforts to lure retailers to an undeveloped area around the Rock Chalk Park sports complex in northwest Lawrence.

“I would think we’ll see some additional construction or at least see some additional projects approved in 2015,” Bittenbender said of the retail front.

The report also looked at office and industrial vacancy rates in the city.

• The office vacancy rate ended the year at 9.6 percent, up from about 9.4 percent a year ago. It remains below the Kansas City and national averages, which are between 11 percent and 12 percent.

• The industrial vacancy rate fell to 6.1 percent, down from 7.4 percent in 2014. That puts Lawrence on par with the average vacancy rate in Kansas City and slightly below the national rate of about 8 percent.

Bittenbender said 2015 could be a strong year for new industrial development, now that the South Lawrence Trafficway is moving toward a 2016 opening and the city’s new Lawrence VenturePark industrial center at the former Farmland Industries site in eastern Lawrence is open.