Developer completes purchase of Turnhalle building; new funeral home eyes Lawrence; city ponders earlier start time for City Commission meetings

I’ve said it more times than my wife cares to remember: Mini-bowling and beer will solve a lot of problems. We may soon put the theory to the test at the old Turnhalle building in East Lawrence.

If you remember, East Lawrence developer Tony Krsnich signed a tentative deal in July to purchase from the Lawrence Preservation Alliance the 1869 Turnhalle building at Ninth and Rhode Island streets. Then he set out to find a tenant for the old building. But no one emerged as a tenant for a building that likely will need more than $1 million worth of renovation work.

Krsnich this week went ahead and completed the purchase anyway, and he tells me he’s looking at plans to use the ground of the building to house a beer garden and mini-bowling establishment. If that sounds a little random, you have forgotten your Turnhalle history. The building housed a social club for the German-American organization Turnverein. The main floor housed a performance area for plays, meetings and gymnastics, while the ground floor housed a beer garden and mini-bowling area.

Krsnich held several public meetings asking for suggestions on how the building should be used in the future, and many people kept coming back to the beer garden and mini-bowling idea. No one, however, stepped forward and submitted a business plan for the idea. That leaves Krsnich — the developer who is behind the popular Poehler Lofts building and the Warehouse Arts District — moving forward on his own.

“We’ll probably go through all the City Hall approvals and start swinging hammers whether we have an operator or not,” Krsnich said. “We think if you will build it they will come.” (That’s an excellent idea: Keep repeating that phrase, and Kevin Costner will come and run the mini-bowling alley.)

A use for the main floor of the building hasn’t been determined yet.

“I’ll continue talking with people in the community,” Krsnich said. “I think it ultimately will be a destination location for whatever its next purpose is.”

As for the beer and bowling, Krsnich wants to be clear that he’s not proposing to put a full-scale tavern or rowdy club in the East Lawrence neighborhood. He said he envisions serving some German food at the establishment and incorporating several other pieces of German culture into the business. And, let’s be honest, if someone else wants to lease the building for another business use, Krsnich is willing to move away from the beer garden and mini-bowling idea.

He has offered to turn the building over to a nonprofit agency for office space, if the agency could afford to do the renovation work. Several have looked, but thus far, none has had the resources to undertake the necessary renovations.

Terms of the purchase weren’t disclosed, but Krsnich said he’s invested more than $100,000 into the building already. He said more investment will soon come. He’s finalizing an agreement with Lawrence-based Hernly Associates to design renovation plans for the structure.

The sale of the building, which is one of the older structures in the community, is a major accomplishment for the Lawrence Preservation Alliance. When LPA purchased the structure in late-2012, it risked the financial future of the organization to do so. But the LPA successfully raised funds and grant money to stabilize the building, which was deteriorating rapidly because of water infiltration.

Dennis Brown, president of the LPA, said he’s proud of what the organization has accomplished and particularly grateful that Krsnich has stepped forward to take the building to its next phase. LPA, however, isn’t entirely out of the project yet. Brown said the organization is providing a $50,000, low-interest, second mortgage on the property to help with the financing during the time period that a tenant is being sought.

“Tony has taken a tremendous leap of faith,” Brown said. “We believe he is the right person for this job, but it is a huge job. We sincerely hope the entire city will get behind Tony and support saving the Turnhalle.”

The contract Krsnich had with LPA would have allowed him to back out of the purchase if he didn’t find a tenant, but Krsnich said he ultimately decided against because he thought the project was too important from a historical preservation standpoint.

“You can’t take the state and be recognized as a national historic development team,” Krsnich said referring to several of the awards his group has won for the Poehler Lofts building, “and then let one of the most historic buildings in town fall down a few blocks from your office.”

In other news and notes from around town:

• Lawrence may be getting a new funeral home, and it may occupy a building along a busy stretch of East 23rd Street.

The Greatful Gathering Funerals and Cremation Centre is the business that hopes to buy the property adjacent to the city’s Lawrence Venture Park at 2004 E. 23rd St. If you remember, Mike Hultine, the current owner of the property, has approached the city about buying a half-acre portion of Lawrence Venture Park property to be used as a parking lot for the building. He told commissioners that he has a contract to sell the building, but the buyer needs the additional land to accommodate parking needs.

At the time we first reported on the project, we didn’t know the nature of the business. Now we know it is a funeral home. Lindsay Jones and Robert Davis, funeral professionals with ties to Kansas City and St. Louis will be the principals of the new business. But area residents Melanie Loyd and Rev. Arsenial Runion also will be part of the new venture, according to an email the group sent me.

The funeral home plans to embrace a funeral concept “where family and friends share in thankfulness for all they had while in relationship with their loved one,” the release says.

But first, the project must complete its land deal for the needed parking lot. City commissioners on Tuesday directed staff to further negotiate with Hultine on a selling price for the property. Hultine had offered $21,760 for the property, or about $1 per square foot. City staff members countered with a price of $30,028.

• Perhaps in the future I will be able to abandon my regular Tuesday evening meal of Mountain Dew and cocoa beans. I, nor you, may not have to stay up so late to watch Lawrence City Commission meetings. City Commissioner Terry Riordan says he wants to have a discussion about starting City Commission meetings earlier. Meetings currently start at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesdays, and it is not uncommon for them to last past 10 p.m.

Commissioners over the years have expressed concern that they make some some pretty important decisions late at night. I’ve witnessed bleary-eyed commissioners making multimillion dollar decisions near midnight. A few times such marathon meetings have taken place following a Tuesday afternoon study session, meaning commissioners and city staff have been at it for seven hours or more. (I have my meeting notes to prove it. Granted, they simply read “must get career counseling, must get career counseling . . . )

But commissioners have been reluctant to start meetings earlier because they are concerned members of the public may have a hard time getting off work to make it to a commission meeting. But Riordan has suggested an idea of starting the ceremonial portion of the City Commission meetings at 5:30 p.m. Before you get the wrong idea, we don’t walk around with scepters and gold leaf copies of the City Code, or anything like that. (Not on Tuesday nights, anyway.) But the meetings do routinely include proclamations and other such ceremonial recognitions.

Riordan’s idea is that those could take place at 5:30 p.m., since they don’t normally generate much public comment. The city wouldn’t start its regular business meeting prior to 6 p.m. Other commissioners said they were open to the idea, but want to hear more feedback from the public. I suspect the city will seek some public comment on the idea in the near future, then make a decision.

In case you are wondering why the city starts its meetings at 6:35 p.m., instead of, say ,6:30 p.m., the simple answer is: We have no idea anymore. It used to be because the local cable station, Channel 6, would broadcast the meetings following its 6 p.m. newscast. The newscast ended at 6:30 p.m. and the extra five minutes gave the production crew a chance to get in its proper places. But that hasn’t been the case for quite awhile. The city does its own television production of the meetings, meaning it can start them whenever it wishes.