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Deal struck to bring new grocer to Sixth and Wakarusa; Google's latest announcement and its impacts on Lawrence
A deal has been struck to bring a new grocer to Lawrence. And it is not coming to downtown. Not North Lawrence, either. Instead, it's slated for what has become the city's new grocery magnet — Sixth and Wakarusa.
Plans have been filed at City Hall for a 27,000-square-foot building that would house a specialty or "farmers market-style" grocer in the Bauer Farm development at the northeast corner of the intersection.
Bill Fleming, a Lawrence attorney and member of the development group, tells me they have a tenant lined up for the building, but can't yet release its name. With the general description that has been released, I know some of you are speculating that a Trader Joe's is coming to West Lawrence. I'm almost certain, however, that's not the tenant. I think it's one less familiar to this part of the country, but I'll refrain from speculating further. Of course, I'll keep hounding those involved for an official announcement.
Whatever grocery chain emerges at the intersection, it will be the third grocer for Sixth and Wakarusa. Dillons has a store on the southeast corner of the intersection, and the Wal-Mart on the northwest corner has a full-line grocery department. (It is interesting to note that several people who opposed the construction of the Wal-Mart said it would run the Dillons out of business. Since that time, Dillons has expanded at the corner and now a third grocer wants to join the mix.)
But before any new grocer comes to the corner, the project does have to win some significant approvals from City Hall. The biggest is that the City Commission will need to increase a retail-zoning cap that has been placed on the corner. Currently, the northeast corner is limited to 72,000-square-feet of retail development. The development group has filed a request to raise that cap to 112,000 square feet.
Fleming, though, notes the development group is not seeking removal of a condition that prohibits big box stores at the corner. The zoning of the property prohibits a single retail building of 50,000 square feet or larger. Fleming said the group doesn't have any plans to bring a traditional big box store to the corner. But he said changing the zoning to allow for the grocer is critical.
"We have always said the intersection needs a little more retail to make it successful for the long term," Fleming said. "We still need an anchor tenant, and this will give us the anchor we need."
In addition to the 27,000 square feet for the grocer, the plans also call for an 11,000-square-foot, in-line retail building that could house a host of smaller shops. Both the grocery building and the in-line retail building would be just north and east of the Hurricane Alley Car Wash, near the southeast corner of Wakarusa and Overland Drive. But not right on the corner. Plans still call for a 108-room hotel to be built at the corner. Fleming, though, said a tenant hasn't been found for the hotel, and those plans are subject to change.
"We're hopeful though that with Rock Chalk Park down the road that there will be a need for some hotel space," Fleming said.
The new zoning for the property will reduce the number of residential living units in the Bauer Farm development by about 70. But Fleming said the development still will have a significant amount of housing. The area between the Theatre Lawrence building and the Meadowlark retirement community is slated to be a mix of apartments and townhouses.
It will be interesting to watch the reaction to the latest development proposal. Development at the intersection has sparked many a battle. It is one of the larger intersections in the community, but there has been concern by some neighbors that too much retail will create a traffic mess. If you a remember, a plan for a Lowe's home improvement center in the Bauer Farm development was rejected after neighbors and others objected. Fleming, though, said this is a much more modest proposal.
"Honestly, we would love to build more office out there," Fleming said. "But there is just not much demand for that. We're trying to build what the market is looking for right now."
In other news and notes from around town:
• Supporters of a downtown grocery store may be left scratching their heads over this latest development. If you remember, there has been a group circulating a petition about how downtown Lawrence needs a grocery store. At the same time, apparently there has been a grocery store company already scouring Lawrence for sites. It needs about a 25,000-square-foot building, which happens to be about the size of the former Borders building in downtown. That building, which is the temporary home to the library, is scheduled to become vacant again in the summer.
It would seem to be a safe bet that the grocery company could have acquired the Borders building for less than it can build new in West Lawrence. Yet, it did not do so. I have heard from good sources that the out-of-town brokerage firm that is marketing the Borders building has shopped the heck out of it to grocery store companies. None of this is to say the petition drive isn't worthwhile, but it may be worth noting that the market perhaps has already spoken on the subject.
On the other hand, downtown grocery supporters may want to keep an eye on what is happening in downtown Salina. A commercial real estate agent there called me recently to get some information about downtown Lawrence's hunt for a grocery store. Apparently, that community is close to announcing a new tenant for a former Dillons store downtown. It sounds like it may be much more of a discount grocery chain that may like the downtown and East Lawrence market. I'll let you know if I hear more.
• Yesterday, Google Fiber announced it has plans to perhaps expand its super-fast Internet service into 34 communities across the country. If you remember, Kansas City won a fierce competition to be the first city for the Google Fiber project.
At that time, many people thought the Google Fiber project was just an experiment. Now, as USA Today notes, this most recent announcement by Google seems to indicate that the company is looking to build a new, profitable, stand-alone business that reaches many parts of the country.
For people who like fast Internet, that is good. For people who were hoping that Kansas City would have a unique piece of infrastructure that would attract companies from far and wide, perhaps not so good.
Among the new cities are: Phoenix; Atlanta; Palo Alto, Calif.; Nashville; Charlotte; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Portland, Ore.; San Antonio; Salt Lake City; and a host of other smaller communities around those metro areas.
It will be interesting to see if Google's most recent announcement has any bearing on the city's thinking regarding spending city tax dollars to try to attract 1-gigabit Internet service to Lawrence. I suppose there are several ways to look at Google's most recent announcement. They include:
— Google has no interest in Lawrence. If they did, they would have included the city in this most recent list of cities up for expansion.
— Google is just getting started with its announcements. Many more are on the way.
— Perhaps Google already considers Lawrence part of the Kansas City market. That may mean Lawrence already is under consideration as part of the Kansas City project, or could be, if the city approaches Google. I recently confirmed with City Manager David Corliss that the city hasn't done formal outreach to Google, such as sending a letter asking the company to consider Lawrence for its service. But the city, as we recently reported, has issued a request for information from companies interested in providing enhanced broadband service in Lawrence. City officials have said they'll make sure that request gets in the hands of Google officials.
The bigger question now may be how ubiquitous is 1-gigabit Internet service going to become? If Google gets serious about creating a new business model for 1 gigabit service, how will other private Internet service providers react? Certainly, they are going to work to protect their market shares. What role will taxpayer-supported subsidies play in this battle among huge private sector companies?
As you've probably guessed by the fact that I'm still writing this column instead of making billions of dollars, I don't know the answer to any of those questions. But it looks like Lawrence leaders are going to get a chance to answer them.