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Pair of shopping centers sell on South Iowa as retail momentum picks up; city trash crews to do curbside collection of toys, food on Monday


In my household, I've found that it is a good idea to get the disappointment out of the way early. That's why I have my wife open my Christmas gift to her first. (Who knew that tennis and bracelet weren't the most important words in the phrase "diamond tennis bracelet.) So, I'll disappoint you right off the bat: I don't know when Dick's Sporting Goods is going to open yet on South Iowa Street.

Lots of people want to know, and I'll work to find out. What I do know is that the pending arrival of Dick's at the former Sears location at 27th and Iowa streets already is shaking up the retail world in that area. Two shopping centers near the site have sold in recent weeks.

A group of Lawrence and Wichita investors have bought the Holiday Plaza Shopping Center at 25th and Iowa streets. That's the shopping center that has Paisano's Italian restaurant, J. Lynn Bridal and several other stores and businesses.

Local resident Susan Hatfield is a part of the ownership group and the new manager for the approximately 50,000-square-foot shopping area. She said the idea of a big box store locating just a couple of blocks down the street certainly played a role in the group's decision to purchase the property.

"We have been looking at for awhile, but we absolutely love seeing what is going on in the area," Hatfield said.

She said no major changes are planned for the center, other than an increase in general maintenance to "spiff it up a bit." The center was 80 percent leased when the deal was closed last month, but leases for some of the vacant space is in the works. My understanding is a new martial arts studio will be the latest addition.

The Tower Plaza shopping center across the street at 2540 Iowa St. also changed hands. Longtime Lawrence real estate investor Bob Hopkins sold the center to a group that includes several executives of the R.H. Johnson commercial real estate firm in Kansas City. The center, for those of you who navigate more by your stomach than by address, is the one that includes the First Watch restaurant and is just south of the Applebee's on Iowa Street.

Hopkins, who has had the property since he opened a VW dealership on it in the 1970s, is in his 70s. He said he was simply looking to sell some of his investments. But he said now is a good time to own property on South Iowa Street.

"The future is very good for that area," Hopkins said. "There's not a lot of land left, but there is still some potential for infill development."

As for the new owners — the group name is Iowa 33 LLC — they bring some significant retail development experience. The R.H. Johnson Company has done deals all over Lawrence and the K.C. metro area. The company was a major player in developing the areas around the two Hy-Vee stores in Lawrence, and more recently, it has been involved in developing some of the outlying property around the Wal-Mart on South Iowa Street. The group seems to have good connections with national retailers and chains.

I've got a call into one of the group's members.

Hopkins said the R.H. Johnson group has been interested in the site for a long time. He said it is becoming clear that despite efforts to develop new retail sites in northwest Lawrence, large national retailers are still most interested in the South Iowa corridor.

"It sure seemed liked Menards' position was that we get on South Iowa Street or we don't come to Lawrence," Hopkins said. "I think retailers understand that in the course of a week, an incredibly high percentage of the population of Lawrence drives by the sites on South Iowa Street."

Menards, of course, is locating just off of South Iowa Street, just east of the existing Home Depot at 31st and Iowa. In addition to the Menards store, the development will include several "outlots" that could attract significant retailers. I've already heard that Menards is tweaking the lot lines on some of those parcels to accommodate stores that may need a slightly larger footprint. No word on who those stores may be, but it will be an area to keep an eye on.

As we have reported, the area just south of the South Lawrence Trafficway but north of the Wakarusa River also has developer interest. A portion of that property is under option, and developers are shopping it to potential big retail tenants. Whether those retailers make a play for that area, and whether Lawrence city commissioners would provide the necessary zoning for a major retail development to occur there, may be the next big questions for South Iowa Street and the city's retail scene.

Well, I can think of one other question: Will any of these new stores have a wider selection of tennis bracelets? I've bought about every color of nylon I can find.

In other news and notes around town:

• It's the season for food drives and toy drives, and now there is a new twist to that traditional way of giving. Simply set out a few new toys and a few cans or boxes of nonperishable food items at your curb, and members of the city's trash collection crew will come pick them up.

On Monday, the city's solid waste division will be picking up toys and food while they are out and about running their regular yard waste collection route. A couple of members of the crew came up with the idea and managers at City Hall green-lighted the project.

"We're kind of looking at it as pilot program," said Duane LaFrenz, one of the crew members. "We definitely know that the community is looking for a way to give, and we're just looking for a way to make it as simple as possible."

Crew members ask residents to place the toys and food in a sack next to their bags of leaves, grass clippings or other yard waste. If a household doesn't have any yard waste for the week, it is still eligible to leave a donation of toys and food along the curb. LaFrenz suggest that items be set out at the curb no later than 6:30 a.m. to ensure they'll be collected.

The toys will be donated to the Blue Santa program, a nonprofit organization founded by Lawrence police officers that helps provide Christmas gifts and food to families in need.

The food will be donated to Just Food, the local food bank.

City trash crews did a test run of the collection system last Monday, and collected 65 toys and 323 pounds of food. LaFrenz said crews are hoping to more than triple that amount on Monday.

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