Capital City Bank signs deal for west Lawrence location; retirement neighborhood near Rock Chalk Park gaining momentum

Development prospects in northwest Lawrence are once again heating up.

I have gotten word of two projects to keep an eye on: a new multitenant development at Sixth and Folks Road that will include a bank and a medical office; and a significant step forward for a major retirement and intergenerational neighborhood near Rock Chalk Park near Sixth and the South Lawrence Trafficway.

First, the bank project. Mark Gonzales, president of Capital City Bank’s Lawrence operations, confirmed to me that Capital City Bank has signed a deal to locate in a future office building at the southwest corner of Sixth Street and Folks Road.

The bank will be part of a project put together by Lawrence developer Adam Williams, who was the principal behind the development of the new retail building at Sixth and Congressional that houses Papa Murphy’s, MeritTrust Credit Union, the Wireless Zone and Prime Martial Arts. Plans call for a 6,500 square-foot building to be constructed on undeveloped land just caddy-corner from the Douglas County Bank location at the intersection. The building will have room for three tenants: Capital City Bank; an undisclosed medical office that is relocating from within Lawrence; and a 2,100 square-foot space that Williams is still seeking to lease.

Gonzales said the bank has been looking for several years for a west Lawrence location to place a full-service bank with a drive-thru. Capital City Bank currently has two locations in Lawrence: On the ground floor of the Hobbs Taylor Lofts building in downtown, and in the Hy-Vee grocery store on West Sixth Street. Gonzales said the bank is still contemplating whether to keep the Hy-Vee location open once the new bank location opens.

Williams said he hopes to break ground later this month, which would allow for the project to be completed by midsummer of 2014. Gonzales said the new location largely is being driven by a desire to offer more convenience, and especially a drive thru, to the bank’s west Lawrence customers. Gonzales said Capital City — which also has banks in the Topeka and Overland Park markets — is optimistic about the future growth prospects for northwest Lawrence. But Gonzales said he’s not ready to declare that the Lawrence banking market is in full rebound mode at the moment.

“We’re still in a stagnant market right now,” he said. “There have been a few big projects to lend on, but the smaller projects really haven’t picked up yet.”

But Gonzales said he thinks the community is primed to grow, if it just gets a catalyst such as a major new employment announcement or some other positive development.

“The good thing is, I think everybody pretty much is singing from the same page right now,” he said. “We have been stagnant long enough that almost everybody recognizes we need to grow some as a community now.”

As for the remaining space available in the building, Williams said it is zoned for commercial office use. He said that could be almost any type of professional office ranging from attorneys to accountants to insurance agents. He said another medical office use would fit well in the building also. (A bank surrounded by two doctors’ offices. Throw in a reference to a certain type of exam, and there is a joke in there somewhere.)

What’s no joke is that plans are getting more serious on this idea of a Campus Village, which would be a unique retirement/intergenerational neighborhood that would have a strong partnership with Kansas University.

Hugh Carter, an executive with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, confirmed to me that the nonprofit board for the Campus Village project has agreed to negotiate a development deal with Kansas City-based Lane4 Property Group.

As we previously reported, Lane4 had made a pitch to the board to develop about 60 acres of property just east of Sixth Street and George Williams Way, behind the St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church. The site is just south and east of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex. When we reported on Lane4’s proposal last month, Carter still labeled the chances of a deal as a bit of a longshot. But the development company last week made a new pitch to the nonprofit board and greatly impressed the leaders of the Campus Village group.

Carter said the board directed longtime Campus Village proponent Dennis Domer, an architect and KU professor, and other university officials to begin negotiations on a development agreement with Lane4.

The development agreement would allow for more concrete plans to be developed for the 60 acres, which some of you may know as the undeveloped Oregon Trail addition that has been owned by local real estate leader John McGrew and others.

But Carter said a concept plan gives a good glimpse at what the development may include: A four or five-story signature building near Sixth and George Williams Way that would house about 180 units of independent living for seniors 55 and up; an approximately 120-unit, nonprofit “community care retirement center” for people who need greater assistance; and a mix of single family homes, townhouses, and apartments that would be open to both retirees and young families.

The big underlying theme of the development is an “intergenerational neighborhood” where people aren’t segregated or labeled by their age.

“We’re hoping to be the first of what will be a trend,” Carter said. “We’re hoping to make a national splash.”

Adding to the uniqueness of the development would be involvement by Kansas University. The Campus Village board includes several high-level executives from KU. The university has shown an interest in having research space available within the development so various schools and departments could use the neighborhood as a resource in health, aging and sociological research. University leaders have seen other schools do similar research that has landed the schools millions of dollars in grant money.

The university also is interested in having a KU-oriented development that could be marketed to alumni interested in returning to Lawrence. KU officials have watched other schools, like the University of Missouri, have success with that model. (No word yet on whether the as-yet-unnamed KU project will try to copy the Mizzou model, such as: covered parking, complete with cement blocks for propping up your motorized buggies; comfortable tree stumps for banjo picking and moonshine sipping; and recreation classes consisting of remedial basketball lessons. I’m guessing the KU project may go in a different direction.)

At the moment, Carter said KU is not being asked to help finance the construction of the project. Developers are planning for the project to be a private one from a financial standpoint, but would like KU assistance in marketing the facility to KU alumni. At the moment, there aren’t plans to ask city and county government to provide taxpayer financing for the project either. But it will be worth watching to see if the project eventually seeks some other types of incentives, such as industrial revenue bonds.

But, of course, all this is still tentative until a development agreement is signed among all the parties. That could take another 60 days or so, depending on how quickly it works its way through the university process, Carter said. I hope to sit down with some of the principals of the proposed project in coming weeks to get more details.

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