LJWorld.com weblogs Town Talk
An update on Menards and other retail and restaurant rumblings
I have just come to expect that it will happen on every home improvement project: last-minute changes dictated by a higher power. You know, a potpourri station here, a chocolate fountain there, a 30-by-40 walk-in shoe vault around the corner. Those sorts of things. But I didn't know that the people who build home improvement stores have to deal with such last-minute tweaks as well.
But that's what is going on currently with plans for a Menards home improvement store near 31st and Iowa streets. (Put your marshmallows away. I didn't mean Menards is adding a chocolate fountain.) But designers are still making some changes to the project, which is one of the reasons construction hasn't yet started on the site that is just east of Home Depot.
Bottomline: There's still not a firm date for when the project will start construction.
At the moment, it appears most of the major changes are coming from Menards officials, not from city planners who are reviewing the site plan for the store. The biggest change is the store's outdoor storage yard is being reduced by more than half. That seems significant because, unlike Home Depot, Menards uses a covered, outdoor storage area to house most of its lumber and other building materials. Menards is proposing to reduce the size of the storage yard to 40,000 square feet, down from the original plan of 90,000 square feet.
I know that is going to create worry among some that Lawrence is going to get a smaller-than-average Menards store. There are people who feel like the Home Depot store is undersized compared with what's available in Topeka and Kansas City, and they don't want that to happen with Menards. It is worth noting that the size of the actual building hasn't changed, only the size of the storage yard.
I'm hoping to get someone from Menards to talk to me about what the change in size means for the store's future offerings. It is possible, though, that it may not be that big of a deal. Menards is moving its outdoor storage yard from the east side of its building to the west side of the building. That changes the traffic flow significantly and the amount of pavement needed to accommodate the traffic. People who have looked at the plans more closely than I have said it appears that the actual amount of area to store goods is about the same as originally proposed, but the amount of pavement to accommodate vehicles has shrunk considerably.
What's more interesting is what Menards is proposing to do with that saved space. As we hinted in November, Menards is trying to increase the size of one of its six outlying retail lots that will surround the home improvement center. The latest plans call for the retail lot immediately east of the Menards store to grow to 5 acres, up from about 1 acre. Obviously, that would allow for a significantly larger retailer to locate on the site.
What would be interesting to know is if Menards has somebody on the hook for the site, or if it is just speculating that this will make it more attractive to users in the future. Under the new configuration, two of the six proposed lots are pretty decent size. In addition to the one just east of the Menards store, there is an 8-acre lot right along 31st Street. It is commonly known as the Snodgrass tract, which was the single-family home that was just east of the Gaslight Mobile Home Village. It appears it can accommodate a decent size store. It has been a little tough to determine how big of a retailer could locate on either lot because there are some floodplain areas that make portions of the property tough to build on. But I've had some people in the business tell me that a 20,000 to 30,000 square-foot building may be possible on the site.
There are a host of major national retailers that occupy 20,000 to 30,000 square-foot buildings. But I haven't heard much talk of who may be interested in locating at the Menards project. As far as major retail speculation goes, the most recent retail rumbling I've heard is that PetSmart may have an interest in a Lawrence location. I certainly don't have anything confirmed on that, but it is worth noting that PetSmart and Dick's Sporting Goods have located next to each other in quite a few developments around the country. Dick's, of course, is under construction in the former Sears building at 27th and Iowa. The building has space for two more retail tenants, plus an outlying restaurant lot. As we reported in December, Chick-fil-A has made some inquiries about that site, but no deal has been struck yet.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you have taken on the awesome task of keeping up with the city's Mexican food restaurant scene, get out your scorecards. There are changes on two fronts. The El Mezcal at 804 Iowa St. is gone, and a Mexican restaurant called Pueblo has replaced it. Pueblo is owned by a longtime employee of El Mezcal, which has operated Mexican restaurants throughout the area. Felipe Avila had worked in various jobs for El Mezcal for about 15 years, and jumped at the chance to buy the 804 location when El Mezcal decided to sell recently. The menu at the location is very similar to what El Mezcal offered, but Avila said he plans to put his own touches on the business as well.
"Lawrence does love Mexican food," Avila told me. "There are probably too many places in town, but I really like this location, and we will offer good food and good service."
West Lawrence also is getting in on the act of new Mexican restaurants. A sign is up for El Sol in the shopping center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. If you remember, an El Mezcal used to operate in that shopping center, but it closed several months ago. I've reached out to the folks at El Sol and will report back when I hear more. There is an El Sol Mexican restaurant in Ottawa, although I'm not certain the two are connected.