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Compton says he thinks convention center would be good addition to downtown Lawrence


I wonder if Lawrence businessman Doug Compton is becoming the E.F. Hutton of downtown Lawrence.

Oh, what’s that? You don’t remember popular television commercials from the 1970s? (My understanding is that there are large swaths of Lawrence’s population who lived through the 1970s but for some reason don’t remember them.)

Anyway, E.F. Hutton was a prominent investment firm that ran television commercials with the tag line: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

Given that Compton, and groups that he leads, are spending tens of millions of dollars to remake the intersection of Ninth and New Hampshire with multi-story buildings, it is feasible to think that when Doug Compton talks about downtown, people are listening.

If so, here’s a statement you may want to take notice of: “It would be great to have a convention center in downtown Lawrence,” Compton said. “I would love to see that.”

Compton last week was answering a question as part of a panel hosted by the Lawrence commercial real estate office of Colliers International. Compton was answering a question about what he would like to see in downtown Lawrence in the future.

He didn’t go into any detail about a downtown convention center, such as how large it should be or where it should be located. There are no Lawrence convention center plans on the front burner at Lawrence City Hall that I’m aware of, but it is easy to see how the idea could get some discussion in the foreseeable future. When Compton’s group completes his Marriott hotel project at Ninth and New Hampshire streets, there will be three, full-service, upscale hotels in downtown: The Eldridge; SpringHill Suites by Marriott; and the new extended stay Marriott that Compton’s project will build. Plus, The Eldridge also operates an extended stay hotel project at Eighth and Vermont streets, and has a vacant lot next to The Eldridge that it has talked about expanding into. All of those projects would be within walking distance of a downtown convention center.

It also is worth noting that Compton is a part of the group that recently took over the long-term lease for the city-owned Abe & Jake’s building. Downtown nightclub owner Mike Logan will run the day-to-operations of that facility, and he has told me that one of the goals is to get more weekday, daytime meeting business into the unique building along the Kansas River. It might be a bit of a stretch to call the building — which can accommodate around 700 people — a convention center, but it certainly will give the group a taste of what it takes to attract large meetings, trade shows and such to the city.

Lawrence architect Mike Treanor — who has been a partner with Compton on several projects — echoed Compton’s sentiments about a convention center.

“A convention center is a terrific idea,” Treanor said.

But he also reminded the crowd that convention centers are they type of project that require some public investment. The city recently has shown willingness to invest in downtown through use of tax increment financing and a special transportation development district that will allow future tax dollars to help pay for infrastructure related to the Ninth and New Hampshire projects.

“To do infrastructure in downtown is so much more expensive than to do it on a greenfield site on the edge of town,” Treanor said. “But Lawrence has a good attitude right now about those type of tools.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Compton and Treanor were really trying to lay the groundwork for some sort of convention center proposal in the near future. I think they were just asked a question and answered it, and maybe there was a little bit of seed planing going on as well. Regardless, it is interesting to think about.

The question of downtown’s future needs also drew an interesting response from Downtown Lawrence Inc. director Cathy Hamilton. She told the crowd that Downtown Lawrence Inc. would love to see a dedicated downtown Lawrence visitors center.

The association currently has a second-story office in downtown, but Hamilton believes a full-fledged visitors center with maps, brochures and friendly people to help point visitors in the right direction could be a real asset to downtown tourism.

“Something on the ground level where people can find a human point of contact,” Hamilton said. “It is our dream at this point, but it is something we’re working on.”

For what it is worth, Compton also used the forum to chime in on the proposed recreation center and sports park near the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. He made it clear that he didn’t think the sports park and the associated development that may occur around it would hurt downtown Lawrence. In fact, he thinks the edge-of-town development ultimately will help downtown.

“I think it will be a big asset to downtown,” Compton said. “It will bring more people to town who wouldn’t be here otherwise.

“Obviously, we’re getting ready to invest $17 million or $18 million in a Marriott, so we are excited about having more people come and stay in hotel rooms. Whenever people come to Lawrence, they always end up in downtown. I don’t think that is going to change.”

Compton — who also runs Lawrence’s First Management Construction Co. — didn’t get into any other details of the project, including what he thinks of a proposal that would allow Lawrence businessman and fellow construction executive Thomas Fritzel to match any construction bids received for the proposed recreation center.

It would be interesting to hear thoughts on that subject, but so far no area construction company has publicly chimed in on the topic.

Just as well, I’ve been busy recently sending off my investment checks to E.F. Hutton. What’s that? Son of . . . No, I hadn’t heard that E.F. Hutton is dead.


whats_going_on 5 years, 3 months ago

however, without Compton, a lot of jobs wouldn't be around. It's like Walmart...you hate to be "thankful" for it, but we'd be in worse shape without it.

I just hope that the core of downtown doesn't change.

snitty 5 years, 3 months ago

Gosh, a convention center in downtown Lawrence is an awful idea! When Compton talks, people in Lawrence get pissed off.

ljwhirled 5 years, 3 months ago

They might get pissed off, but they don't vote, so who cares?

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 3 months ago

They haven't been announced yet because the city commission hasn't taken action yet to move forward with the project. But indications are that they will be two large Kansas City-based construction companies. Thanks, Chad

Bob Forer 5 years, 3 months ago

Who will be doing a favor for their buddy Thomas. Why spend the money to draw up a bid when you know its not going to be accepted? What an outlandish ruse.

JackMcKee 5 years, 3 months ago

Love him or hate him, Compton makes things happen.

Bob Forer 5 years, 3 months ago

Both great and not-so-great folks "make things happen, both good and bad. And your point?

JackMcKee 5 years, 3 months ago

Meaning that Lawrence has changed much more over the last few years than I've ever seen before. It's an interesting time to live in Lawrence.

irvan moore 5 years, 3 months ago

i sure wish doug wanted a golden corral and a red lobster

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

An idea I was throwing around.... which could still happen.

Have the city convert the current library building to a convention center and build a new library next door to the Arts Center. Taxpayers do not want to give their property away. How can we Lawrence,kansas equitably help each other without corporate welfare? All of this would need voter approval.

Build the Marriot on the NW corner of 9th and New Hampshire.

MarcoPogo 5 years, 3 months ago

No, because then that neighborhood would start complaining about a bunch of "readers" hanging out in the area and bookworms make people nervous.

WilburM 5 years, 3 months ago

We missed the best chance for a convention center when Fritzel build the Oread. Too small to host a conference, isolated, not just a very useful addition. the University should have used its muscle then to put together a hotel convention center between where the Oread stands and the the parking garage, maybe tying it into the Union (at least re available rooms). Hard to imagine a spot downtown for a large-enough convention center. Maybe on New Hampshire in the 600 block.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

Lawrence,Kansas needs to think small town convention center in downtown Lawrence and build it accordingly. And book it accordingly.

Lawrence,Kansas does not need to compete with the KCMO/JOCO big dogs. Lawrence needs to attract new dollars at a wise level.

Why not Abe and Jakes? It's here now. Remodel time. Privately financed.

Abe and Jakes Convention Center in Downtown Lawrence,Kansas.

Sounds good to me.

Darrell Lea 5 years, 3 months ago

Hi, Merrill - I hope you're doing well.

There are two MAJOR problems with the Abe & Jakes site that need to be addressed and remedied: 1) a better parking facility that can comfortably accommodate the number of people a convention type facility would draw. 2) easier access to load in and out of the building. Right now, loading choices are to either take the access road by the railroad track and drive to a platform immediately next to the train tracks, or to carry anything in down several long flights of stairs. The train area only accommodates a few vehicles that have to be parked single file, while the stairs option is simply too long and ridiculous to take seriously.

Maddy Griffin 5 years, 3 months ago

Agree with #1!! The current parking situation cannot handle employee parking for those who work at Knology, Results, or the Spring Hill Suites.

lwctown 5 years, 3 months ago

Have you ever seen a developer say that building anything wasnt a good idea?

Keith 5 years, 3 months ago

"But he also reminded the crowd that convention centers are they type of project that require some public investment."

Isn't that true of just about any of Compton's recent projects?

pizzapete 5 years, 3 months ago

Great ideas don't need tax breaks, great ideas pay for themselves. If this truely was a good idea they wouldn't need our help to pay for it.

jack22 5 years, 3 months ago

Treanor "also reminded the crowd that convention centers are they type of project that require some public investment." So this is another typical Treanor and Compton project in which they don't want to have to pay for it all themselves, they'll need more tax break, special tax districts, and parking subsidies to make sure they make more money and take an even bigger piece of the small pie that is our downtown. Do you guys have no shame? We the tax payers of Lawrence are fed up with having to finance every stupid idea you guys come up with. Pay for it all yourselves and pay your share of the taxes or don't do it.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

The problem relating to corporate welfare is with government officials who keep saying yes.

Think about that when a candidate has Chamber of Commerce blood. These thinkers are fiscally reckless. Not good stewards of our tax dollars.

Anthony Mall 5 years, 3 months ago

How many days is the holiday inn meeting areas really used??? What does Lawrence have over Kansas city to attract a move?? Plastic cup convention? Hallmark card convention? The first Gun Show booked and liberals in Lawrence would crap themselves!!!

Armstrong 5 years, 3 months ago

Convention center ? I would go along with the idea of one but not downtown. Numerous problems.1) Parking,2) Access,3) Congestion. Why not put one where the Tanger outlet mall is/was. Lots of parking, easy access....

Bob Forer 5 years, 3 months ago

A convention center in scenic North Lawrence? Yeah, and building Kemper Arena in the stockyards worked so well.

gatekeeper 5 years, 3 months ago

For those of you that never venture to N. Lawrence and think it's so yucky - the old Tanger mall is almost completely full and is now a business center. Ewwww, go across the bridge. Kills me how you people hate N. Lawrence, but never go over there and see that's it's changed and has gotten a lot better.

Bob Forer 5 years, 3 months ago

I have absolutely no problem with a convention center built entirely with private funds. If it is not profitable without taxpayer subsidy then it shouldn't be built. What ever happened to "free enterprise." Lawrence is turning into a Compton, et. al. Soviet Socialist Republic.

Armstrong 5 years, 3 months ago

Liberals hate free enterprise - someone may make a profit

Bob Forer 5 years, 3 months ago

I love to see people make a profit. Just not on the backs of we taxpayers.

riverdrifter 5 years, 3 months ago

“A convention center is a terrific idea...” Compton

“I would love to see that.” Treanor

Meaning: 'We want the taxpayers of Lawrence/Douglas county to pay for it but we want to make major bank on it.'

deec 5 years, 3 months ago

" I don’t think Compton and Treanor were really trying to lay the groundwork for some sort of convention center proposal in the near future. I think they were just asked a question and answered it, and maybe there was a little bit of seed planing going on as well."

Wanna bet? This is Dougie announcing his next taxpayer money grab to develop the Abe&Jake's site.

Thomas Bryce Jr. 5 years, 3 months ago

Doug Compton Quote"It would be great to have a convention center in downtown Lawrence. I would Love to see that." Translation: I Need the commision to approve a convention center to build where I pay as little as possible out of pocket, Douglas County Taxpayers bare the brunt of costs that I Should pay, And I add one more sweet deal The City Commision and Chamber of Commerce Will give me to pad my retirement. That about cover it?

Bob Forer 5 years, 3 months ago

When built in 1981, the Holidome was touted as a state-of-the art facility. Its glory years were not long, which lead to its changing hands several times before the current owners invested millions of dollars four short years ago. If I recall, the influx of capital did not include any city giveaways.

For those folks who talk about Lawrence being unfriendly to business, it would be a travesty and patently unfair to subsidize a second convention center that would compete with the Holidome.

Let Compton and his cronies play by the same rules as outside developers.

greenworld 5 years, 3 months ago

i never understood why a full size mall with actual realtime stores couldnt be built out by 6th and the expressway. lawrence has always had the size to support it and Topeka and Kc have several malls yet Lawrence cant get one shopping mall that is decent. And im not talking about a second hand store shopping mall or tanger outlet store that Lawrence tried to build one time and caledl a mall. The I-70 mall didnt make it cuz they put piss poor stores inside of it and it wasnt marketed correctly to begin with. THe downtown mall along the river never made it because it sucked and wasnt marketed correctly and nobody supported it and still shopped downtown. I think its fair to say downtown doesnt having the shopping venue that it once did and you could name a dozen or more stores that folded up the tent and went out of business. Johnson furniture, Arensburg shoes and many others. Im surprized Weavers can still stay in business.Not only that downtown is now just a barhaven for drunks at night which is a major determinant to making anything happen positive. If you want to see a real shopping mall that has alot of people that is clean and has a ton of people that is awersome to check out go to the Branson Landing in Branson Mo and check it out. It sits next to the river in old downtown Branson and a ton of people there eating and shopping. It was a very nice experience. Whats funny is I believe it was a tanger outlet mall...lol

spiderd 5 years, 3 months ago

The 80's called, they want their comment back.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 3 months ago


Where do you grow up? Wherever it was, why don't you just go back there, please. Because Lawrence didn't build a White Lakes or an Indian Springs back in the day, we don't have to deal with giant empty shells of former malls that were left when their anchors pulled up and left, leaving the little stores behind to wither away after they gutted the local business community. The national business climate has changed such that malls have been lousy investments for quite a while, and with internet sales growing by leaps and bounds, that's only getting worse. At least we've been able to repopulate our failed investments better than most, mostly because of their prime locations and not-too-grand scales.

And I'm sorry, but I only see Branson as a cautionary tale, not an example to hold up for others to emulate.

Keith 5 years, 3 months ago

There's a good site for a convention center on McDonald drive just south of the Turnpike access. There's currently a Hallmark plant there, but that can't last too many more years.

Bob_Loblaw 5 years, 3 months ago

What conventions exactly does Compton and crew actually think would come here? This isn't Sim City....You don't just build a convention center and some sort of magical conventions and revenue manifest out of thin air. Has anyone actually heard from a reputable entity that they would be willing to bring their convention to Lawrence? Anything that is built here would still be competing with OP Convention Center and the myriad of other KC possibilities as well as Kansas Expo in Topeka. Last I looked we didn't have a commercial airport here either. Build it and they will come.....sure whatever....

justoneperson 5 years, 3 months ago

The academia comment is true for the most part, either the same hotel or a couple hotels within in a block or two of each other. I also suspect that for a lot of academic-type conferences the Abe and Jakes spot is too small.

jack22 5 years, 3 months ago

Bob, don't be so short sighted. Our convention center could draw from our large and diverse community of slumlords, weirdos, frat boys, Topekans, and anyone who works in our thriving pizza, beverage, or burrito industries.

BlueWaffle 5 years, 3 months ago

The name's Waffle. Blue Waffle. And I come before you good people tonight with an idea.

Probably the greatest... Aw, it's not for you. It's more of a Topeka idea. All right, I tell you what I'll do. I'll show you my idea! I give you the Lawrence Monorail! I've sold monorails to Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrooke, and by gum, it put them on the map!

Well, sir, there's nothing on earth Like a genuine, Bona fide, Electrified, Six-car Monorail! ... What'd I say?

lunacydetector 5 years, 3 months ago

a convention center financed by the taxpayers would be a good addition to downtown lawrence, because that is the only way something like that will pencil......just like the new hotel. must be nice having the government wallet in your hip pocket....but this is lawrence.

pizzapete 5 years, 3 months ago

I guess this is what we get for giving carte blanche to a couple of wannabee big city architects and developers. I don't care if they turn Abe and Jakes into a convention center, a beer can museum, or a 2nd downtown brewery that might compete with the Free State, as long as they're not asking for more taxpayer hand outs to do it. What's worrisome to me is these guys seem to be emboldened by their ability to limit their own financial risks by charging a good deal of their initial and future expenses back to the city and the people of Lawrence through the creation of new tax districts and the withholding of future payment of any additional property taxes. We need to put a stop to this nonsense before Lawrence, because of it's willingness to shift it's enormous tax burden onto it's workers, homeowners, and consumers, becomes to expensive for an average person to live and raise a family.

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