City Commission gets confirmation on grocery store for former Borders building

The former Borders building, located at Seventh and New Hampshire streets, in a file photo from 2012.

A representative for the owners of the old Borders building in downtown Lawrence confirmed to the City Commission on Tuesday that the property would be a grocery store, and it would likely be leased to a grocer within the next six months.

Bill Fleming, an attorney for a group led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor, said the owners are considering doubling the building’s square-footage — a decision that needs to be made before any other action can be taken on the project. The confirmation comes two years after a resident-led effort emerged to attract a grocery store to the building.

The site, 700 New Hampshire St., lies at the center of a federally designated food desert.

“We’re going to have a grocery store,” Fleming said. “It’s just a question of whether it’s going to be 20,000 square feet or 40,000.”

The conversation arose at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting during talks about another Compton- and Treanor-owned property: the old Pachamamas building at 800 New Hampshire St.

Commissioners were weighing whether to charge the group for the rights to 30 feet of city-owned property south of the Pachamamas building. The space was needed in order for the group’s planned apartment and retail development at the site to meet fire codes.

The city granted at no cost a similar easement to the group for its other, seven-story apartment project at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. In this instance, city staff initially recommended charging developers the appraised value of $70,000. Staff changed its recommendation to $35,000 after developers offered that as a compromise.

Mayor Mike Amyx pressed Fleming on information about the grocery store, saying his decision on what to charge for the easement would be influenced by Fleming’s answer to whether there would be, with certainty, a grocery store developed at the site.

“As a commissioner, I expect that project to happen,” Amyx said. “I’ll just lay it out there for you: I want to have serious discussion on what that grocery store is going to be. It’s an absolute at this point.”

Commissioners ended up voting 3-2 to charge developers $35,000 for the easement. Vice Mayor Leslie Soden and Commissioner Matthew Herbert voted against it, both wanting developers to be charged the full $70,000.

Amyx made a similar comment to Fleming in December after commissioners approved a sales tax exemption on construction materials for the Pachamamas project.

Fleming had said in September that the Borders site was being considered. At that time, developers were working with J.R. Lewis, owner of Checkers, to locate a grocery store downtown. It was not confirmed at Tuesday’s meeting whether Lewis was the grocer with whom developers were still working.

Fleming also said Tuesday the group was looking into securing new markets tax credits — a tax incentive to private investors in low-income communities.

The grocery store discussion led Soden to question the development group’s plans for the length of New Hampshire Street. Besides the two ongoing apartment projects, the group also developed the Marriott Towneplace Suites south of Ninth and New Hampshire.

“Will you bring the master plan for all of New Hampshire Street here to City Hall?” Soden asked. “I like that you guys are talking about the grocery store, but I haven’t been part of these conversations.”

Fleming responded that the group would “welcome the opportunity to talk about our vision for downtown.”

In other business, commissioners:

• Unanimously approved installing three on-street bicycle corrals in downtown Lawrence.

• Unanimously awarded $100,000 from the city’s affordable housing trust fund to a three-home housing project at 908 La Salle St.

• Unanimously approved a change to how city employees are paid for travel expenses, implementing a per diem for travel days.