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City ends negotiations to purchase Abe & Jake's building next to City Hall


Well, it looks like dreams of Lawrence perhaps having the most picturesque Planning and Development Services offices in the country have been dashed.

There had been quite a bit of speculation in certain real estate circles that the city of Lawrence was close to buying the Abe & Jake’s Landing building that is immediately east of City Hall.

The city was interested in the building as a home for a combined office for its Planning and Development Services Department. Currently, the building permit and code enforcement portion of that department is in the former Riverfront Mall, while the planning portion of the department is in City Hall. The city has long wanted a combined office so it can have a “one-stop shop” for builders and developers doing business with the city.

And what a stop that would have been. If you have forgotten, the Abe & Jake’s building is one of the more unique in the city. The old 19th Century industry building sits along the south bank of the Kansas River and has huge windows overlooking the Kaw.

But it appears the deal is not to be. Mayor Bob Schumm confirmed to me that the city had been working for about four months on a potential purchase. But after architects brought back estimates on what it would cost to renovate the 24,000-square-foot building — which has about 50-foot-high ceilings in most places — the city recently backed away from the deal.

Schumm said he doesn’t see much chance the city will pursue the building in the future, and he said the city currently is not looking at any other locations for a joint Planning and Development Services office.

The deal would have come with an interesting twist: The city would have been buying a building it already owns. The building and property came under the ownership of the city when it purchased land in the area for City Hall. But the city in the 1990s granted Lawrence businessman Mike Elwell a low-cost, long-term lease on the building, in exchange for him making about $2 million worth of improvements to what had become an eyesore of a building.

Elwell’s lease on the building runs into 2087. The city really would have been purchasing that lease.

Elwell has made no secret that he wants to sell his rights to the building. We reported in January 2011 that the building — which basically has been an event venue and nightclub since Elwell finished the building in 2002 — was on the market for $1.3 million.

At the time, Elwell said he was receiving some interest from hotels and others who wanted to use the building as a small-scale convention center and events venue. But he said the slow economy was holding back those sort of deals. It will be interesting to see what eventually lands at Abe & Jake’s.

The fact the city was contemplating a deal for the property also brings up an interesting point. According to my sources, the city believed it could purchase and perhaps renovate the building without having to raise any taxes.

If so, this is just another reminder of how unique of a financial position the city is in. It has access to cheap money through the bond market that is lending money at historically low rates, and the city’s bond and interest fund has very sizable reserves at the moment.

Let’s do a little back-of-the-napkin math on all the projects the city has or plans to do without raising taxes: $25 million for a recreation center; about $7 million in infrastructure for the future business park at the former Farmland Industries site; let’s estimate $3 million for the Planning and Development Services offices; and then there is the approximately $300,000 per year the city says it has to cover the expected operational shortfall of the proposed recreation center. That $300,000 per year probably could finance about a $4 million bond.

That’s just off the top of my head, and the amount comes to $39 million the city can put toward a project or projects without having to raise taxes. I wonder how many folks realize how unique of a time period Lawrence city government finds itself in these days.

More on that another day.


gccs14r 5 years, 3 months ago

So why not fix the important things first, such as the Kaw water intake port and the stormwater runoff dumping the EPA is on us about, before building rec centers or business parks or cutting more education funding?

d_prowess 5 years, 3 months ago

I thought I was going to like this new blog format, but now I just feel like I am doing more clicking back and forth on the website because I have to click on each of Chad's stories individually instead of getting them all at once. I know, incredibly whinny and really not a big deal... and hey, maybe this was intentional to increase the overall number of click on the website for ad sales?

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 3 months ago

Thanks for the feedback. I think the bosses are interested in hearing what people think about the new format. Thanks, Chad.

lawrence267 5 years, 3 months ago

I agree. I preferred the one Town Talk each day with all the stories.

hail2oldku 5 years, 3 months ago

I agree. I liked the one stop shop version. I realize this let's you get more in depth with each individual story, but the previous format was better imho.

Megan Tugman 5 years, 3 months ago

I completely agree. Also in this new format I don't get the daily email when it updates. I've been missing it because its totally fallen of my radar without those emails.

Joe Adams 5 years, 3 months ago

Plus, can you not see Town Talks on the mobile version of the site? I never see them in the main section anymore but can only find them if a lot of comments show up and it ends up high in the Discussion section.

irvan moore 5 years, 3 months ago

please city of lawrence, just buy the riverfront mall property, it's a perfect fit, the price is fair and it would be a easy to use location for most city offices and look at all the parking

mae 5 years, 3 months ago

50ft ceiling and no office space. The price is anything but fair unless the city is planning on putting in another floor, segmenting that and then where is parking?

Old_Oread_Phart 5 years, 3 months ago

Remember the old song "The Fool on The Hill?" Well, we know who they were singing about.

Tammy Copp-Barta 5 years, 3 months ago

Does anyone know why the city ever agreed to such a long term lease??? Seems stupid to me ... I could see 10, 20 or 25 ... but until 2087?!?!? Paying again for a building we already own ... the deals we make with the devil ..

5 years, 3 months ago

what about using the riverfront mall as the police station?

Dan Simons 5 years, 3 months ago

not a money pit, sorry you have so many negative opinions about the paper, but the building should have been the library and could be the police station, and would save the tax payers of this city one hell of a lot of money, yep, i would make a profit as well , but the tax payers would save millions

irvan moore 5 years, 3 months ago

i'm with you on this one mr. simons, the mall could have been (or could be) a great assett to this city, perfect for the library, police station, city offices, event center, etc. but then no way to get a parking garage approved by taxpayers. why does this commission refuse to look at the riverfront mall, something stinks

Dan Simons 5 years, 3 months ago

The police requested covered parking, it has it. On just the west side the 66,000 feet offered at 6 million should be a value vs the 30 or 40 million tab being talked about for same space needs. I know I am not an architect but, it is basically a large office, big flat open spaces , lots of small offices, shouldn't take to much retro to make it a police station, heck double the purchase price and at 12 million it is still a huge savings to the tax payer, on city owned land, with lots of parking. Wibur thinks it is old, the bottom floor has been remodeled several times most recently this year, the top floor was completely remodeled a couple years ago, works great for the current tenants. The only thing i have heard is it is not Class A space, since when, in these times do city offices need to be Class A rated spaces

pizzapete 5 years, 3 months ago

I agree beatnik, it seems to me it would be a good fit for many of our city's current and future needs. As you've stated, it could work as a library, police station, and the list goes on.

lunacydetector 5 years, 3 months ago

so, is the business for sale for $1.3 million? as i recall, the rent is only $400 a month.

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 3 months ago

The $400 per month, I believe, is for parking spaces in the public garage. The rent paid to the city for the building is quite a bit less than that, I believe. The $1.3 million buy someone the right to occupy the building through 2087. Thanks, Chad.

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 3 months ago

Geez, at that low of rent, I'd let the city be my landlord over my current one any day! Any ideas as to why renting an entire building from the city is so much lower than an apartment in a complex?

MarcoPogo 5 years, 3 months ago

The way I remember it is that Elwell took the old building off the city's hands, dumped his own money into it for many years, did all the rehab and construction, which in return basically got him a rental rate of a dollar a year (that part may be a bit hyperbolic but not far from the true deal).

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 3 months ago

The gist of the deal was that the city offered a nominal rent rate in exchange for Elwell taking over a building that was dilapidated. Elwell has estimated he spent about $2 million on the renovations over a multi-year period. Thanks, Chad

cowboy 5 years, 3 months ago

Why would you take a perfectly cool building and turn it into city office space ? Why would you put a city hall into a landlocked spot with no parking ?

I'm no urban planner but I did spend last weekend in a Holiday Inn Express.

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