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Signs that Chick-fil-A seeking store site on South Iowa Street; Dick's Sporting Goods likely opening in June
Grab ahold of your drumsticks, Lawrence. There are real signs that Chick-fil-A is seriously considering building a new restaurant here.
A company representative has filed paperwork with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning office inquiring about the zoning of the former Sears site at 2727 Iowa St.
The former Sears site, of course, is where Dick's Sporting Goods plans to open a store. (An update on that in just a moment.) But plans for the project also include constructing a new building in a corner of the parking lot. The plans I've seen call for the restaurant building to be constructed in the southeast corner of the lot, kind of next to the Midas auto repair building that sits on Iowa Street.
Certainly, I've heard rumors that Chick-fil-A was interested in the site, but if I had a dollar for every time I heard a Chick-fil-A rumor, I would have at least seven or eight dollars. It is important to note that this latest development doesn't seal a deal that Chick-fil-A is coming to Lawrence, but it is evidence that the company is fairly far along in its evaluation of Lawrence and the former Sears site.
What the company has sought from the planning office is a "zoning certification letter." We're deep in the planning weeds here, but basically those letters further clarify what type of uses are legally allowed. Often, the letters are required by lenders before they will finance a project.
So, I'll keep my eyes open for any more developments on the deal. Certainly there have been rumors of other restaurants interested in the site, and I do believe interest in the location has been high. It's possible that the development group may be in the envious position of having more than one restaurant vying for the location.
If a Chick-fil-A does build in Lawrence, it will mark the end of one of the more frequent questions I've been asked in the 20-plus years I've reported here: When is Chick-fil-A going to build in Lawrence? I remind folks that Chick-fil-A operates a location in the food court of Wescoe Hall at KU, but that small location with limited hours isn't satisfying Chick-fil-A fans, based on the number of questions I get.
For those of you not familiar with the chain (your cholesterol levels must be fantastic, by the way), it's famous for its chicken sandwich, but it also has salads, wraps and serves breakfast.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The other big question I've been getting lately is, "When is Dick's Sporting Goods going to open?" A source close to the development tells me that June is now a likely opening date for the store.
Indeed, a building permit has been issued and work is underway at the site. The plans I've seen show Dick's occupying about 50,000 square feet in the middle portion of the building. That leaves space for an approximately 30,000-square-foot retailer on the southern end of the building, and about 10,000 square feet of space in the northeast corner of the building.
There certainly has been speculation that Old Navy may be a target tenant for the smaller space. But we'll have to take a wait-and-see approach on that one. I'm told no deal has been reached on the other spaces in the development.
But certainly the site — which was purchased by a group led by veteran Wichita real estate developer Michael Boyd — has some momentum currently. It will be interesting to watch what other national companies have an interest in Lawrence.
• It appears it also will be interesting to watch whether Lawrence City Hall ends up with a director of arts and culture position. As we reported, city commissioners last night received the final report from the city's Cultural District Task Force. A key recommendation of the report is for City Hall to hire a new position that will coordinate and market the community's efforts to become a major arts and culture destination for visitors.
Commissioners didn't take any action on creating the new position, but they sent plenty of signals that the position may stand a real chance to win approval. Commissioners said they may not want to wait until budget hearings this summer to have the discussion about whether to add the position to the 2015 city budget. Instead, commissioners asked staff to bring a report back in the next several weeks. There is grant possibility the Kansas Department of Commerce could pay for part of the first year expenses for the director. The city needs to make a decision on the grant, which would require matching dollars from the city, by early February.
City Manager David Corliss told commissioners last night that he supports the idea for a director of arts and culture. He said he's confident there's plenty of work such a position could undertake. It has been estimated that the position would add about $100,000 to the city budget, once salary, benefits and an operating budget for the position is created.
A large contingent from the local arts community came out in support of the idea at Tuesday's city commission meeting. Task force members also stressed that they believe the position is critical, and is a common city government position in communities that are thriving arts destinations.
Members of the city's Cultural District Task Force are: City Commissioner Bob Schumm; local marketing executive Cindy Maude; Lawrence Arts Center Director Susan Tate; downtown Lawrence business owner Mike Logan; East Lawrence neighborhood representative and artist KT Walsh; East Lawrence neighborhood representative Jacki Becker; East Lawrence neighborhood representative Brenda Nunez; Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission member Grace Peterson; and Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission representative Mandy Enfield.