City negotiating deal to lease part of Riverfront Plaza building

The west side of Riverfront Plaza is pictured in this file photo from 2012.

The city of Lawrence may soon have a larger presence in the Riverfront Plaza building.

City officials say city staff and the owners of the building, which used to house the Riverfront Mall, are working on a draft agreement for the city to lease part of the top floor. Director of Planning and Development Scott McCullough said the arrangement would allow both divisions of his department to operate side by side.

“It gets all the development-related staff under one roof so that we can do our business more efficiently,” McCullough said. “And we’ve done just about everything we can in terms of process improvements except to all be in one location. That’s the final step to a true one-stop shop.”

Currently, the city’s planning division is located in City Hall, and the development division, which deals with such things as permits and code enforcement, is located on the bottom floor on the east side of the Riverfront building. McCullough said the city is looking to lease the west side of the top floor, which would also provide room for Lawrence Municipal Court to locate in the building.

The municipal court currently operates out of a building on New Hampshire Street that is leased by the city.

The western part of the Riverfront building — which is located next door to City Hall — previously housed the customer service center for Midco phone, cable and internet. The Riverfront building is owned by the Simons family, who previously owned the Journal-World.

McCullough said that in order to serve as the location for the courts and planning and development, the area would need to be remodeled to build out the space and include features such as conference rooms, offices and work areas. He said the price for the Riverfront remodel and lease agreement was still being negotiated with the owners of the Riverfront building.

Currently, the city pays $100,049 annually to lease the approximately 6,900 square feet occupied by the municipal court on New Hampshire Street, according to information provided by McCullough. The city leases about 6,500 square feet on the east side of the Riverfront building for $87,278.70 annually. McCullough said the city is also responsible for utilities in both locations.

The idea to lease the top floor of Riverfront and move the municipal court is part of a larger effort to consolidate the city’s operations. The city currently operates out of more than 40 facilities, which officials have said creates inefficiencies and increases operational costs.

City Manager Tom Markus aired the idea of leasing or purchasing part of the Riverfront building last spring, but those discussions were later put on hold while the city and Riverfront owners settled payments of the building’s ground lease — the city owns the land the building sits on — that went uncollected for several years.

McCullough said city staff is getting close to completing a draft of the agreement with Riverfront owners and it may go before the City Commission for review as early as next month.