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Menards files plans for Lawrence store next to Home Depot near 31st and Iowa streets
A home improvement center battle in Lawrence is about to begin.
Menards has filed plans at Lawrence City Hall to build a large home improvement center right next to Home Depot near 31st and Iowa streets.
The company — as was previously speculated — wants to locate in the former Gaslight Mobile Home Village.
The retailer has opened new stores in Topeka and Manhattan in recent months. Menards officials said in their application that significant numbers of Lawrence residents have been driving to the Topeka Menards. The retailer sells home improvement items — much like Home Depot or Lowes — but it also has a broader offerings that include home goods and other items.
The plans call for the 41.5 acres to be rezoned from an apartment/multi-family zoning designation to a Planned Commercial Development designation.
Documents included in the submittal indicate Menards is looking to build a 162,340 square foot store, although it isn’t clear whether that number is the size of the building or also includes outdoor storage yards and such.
Either way, it appears the store would be significantly larger than the Home Depot store, which is just west of the proposed site.
The proposal will create a major retail question at City Hall. The city’s long-range planning documents don’t call for the former Gaslight Mobile Home Village to become a retail development. The plans call for it to become an apartment development. (You may remember a Texas-based company proposed a large student apartment complex for the site last year, but then pulled out when it determined the Lawrence market couldn’t support it.) City commissioners will have to decide how much they want to stick to their previous statements that indicated the next area for big box store development should be the intersection of Sixth Street and the SLT, which not coincidentally is where the city and KU are working to build the new Rock Chalk Park sports village.
But Menards officials, in a letter to the city, made it clear they have no interest in that site.
“This site (Sixth and SLT) is very removed from the city’s rooftops and is surrounded by vacant ground on three sides for many miles,” Menards real estate representative Tyler Edwards wrote. “Additionally this site is not visible from the existing retail on Sixth Street due to a large hill. The amount of commercially oriented traffic that would pass by the store on Sixth Street or K-10 would be close to none and not enough to make a successful store.”
The area around the Sixth and SLT site is obviously developing with the Rock Chalk Park project and just last night the city approved the preliminary development plan for The Links, a 630 unit apartment complex that will surround a private nine-hole golf course.
But none of that has been enough to convince Menards that the area will be viable for their store in the near future.
In the past — when Home Depot and Best Buy were built at the 31st and Iowa intersection more than a decade ago — neighbors expressed concern that retail shouldn’t stretch east down 31st Street because of traffic and other issues that could impact nearby neighborhoods.
But with the South Lawrence Trafficway scheduled to start construction later this year, 31st Street will undergo major changes. An entirely new high-capacity street, dubbed 32nd Street, will be built through the nearby Baker Wetlands and connect with the existing 31st Street just east of the proposed Menards site.
This project may be the first one that causes people in the community to realize how much the completion of the SLT and the new U.S. Highway 59 is going to change south Lawrence. In addition to the Menards, the development plan also has room for another 65,000 square feet of retail space spread out over six lots on the site. But documents in the plan indicated those would be part of a Phase II that likely would not begin until a few years after Menards opens.
Menards confirmed it looked at creating a new retail site south of the SLT — basically between the SLT’s Iowa Street bridge and the Wakarusa River — but determined the cost of dealing with the floodplain on the site was prohibitive. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see other retailers look strongly at that site in the future.
In the meantime, expect a lot of discussion about Menards at City Hall. The earliest the development proposal could make it to the Planning Commission is in late April, meaning it will be the next City Commission that decides this issue.