More details on proposed East Lawrence bistro/bar and growing tensions in the neighborhood; KDOT awards $18 million bid for west Lawrence interchange

Maybe it will be street tacos. Maybe it will be Texas barbecue. Maybe it even will be Cajun. It is still unknown what type of food truck will be featured at an East Lawrence bistro/bar proposed for a spot next to the Poehler Lofts.

But one thing is clear: Already there’s no shortage of spice in the area around the Poehler Lofts these days..

In short, I’ve got a few more details about the proposed bistro/bar/food truck venture we reported on last week. I also have a few details about a dispute that seems to be brewing around the Poehler and the popular Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence.

First, the bistro/bar:

• Developer Tony Krsnich tells me he doesn’t yet have an operator for the business. He plans to begin within a month about $250,000 worth of renovations to the small stone building that is just west of the Poehler building at Eighth and Pennsylvania. Once renovation work begins, he’s optimistic an operator will be found. If not, he said he’s prepared to operate the facility.

• He hopes the establishment will have the feel of both a bistro and a bar. He cites the Bourgeois Pig in downtown as an example. He wants the business to sell coffee and pastries beginning at 6 a.m., but he also envisions the business selling cocktails until 2 in the morning.

• Plans show the small building almost surrounded by outdoor seating areas that also are adjacent to a parking stall for a food truck. The food truck would be the only on-site kitchen for the establishment. Krsnich said he hasn’t yet reached a deal with any food truck operators, but said he thinks it is possible that several food trucks may operate at the establishment on a rotating basis. It is a new concept in Lawrence, and Krsnich needs it to work. City commissioners previously have said a traditional bar cannot be located at the site. Instead, the business must make at least 55 percent of its sales from food, although the new establishment will be given two years to reach that total.

• Krsnich said he’ll be sensitive to concerns by neighbors that the business not create a noise nuisance. He said he doesn’t see a need to have amplified music on the patio area, but he does hope to have some acoustic performers or some jazz quartets occasionally featured outside the establishment.

“We’re in the process of creating a vibrant arts district,” Krsnich said of the area surrounding the Poehler. “Some noise is OK in that type of setting.”

Some noise of a different type has been surrounding the area lately. City officials have gotten an earful of concerns from some East Lawrence residents who previously were big fans of Krsnich and the Warehouse Arts District development.

Longtime East Lawrence neighborhood resident KT Walsh recently told Lawrence city commissioners that the relationship between Krsnich and the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association has soured.

“There have been a lot of bridges burned here,” Walsh said. “There is no trust between the neighborhood association and Mr. Krsnich.”

Krsnich disagrees with that assessment. He said the concerns voiced have been from a handful of individual members of the association, but his relationship with the group as a whole is solid.

This is all noteworthy because previously there was more “Kumbaya” singing in the Warehouse Arts District than at a Girl Scout campfire. So, what’s caused the change in tone?

I’m not sure I fully understand it. But some of the larger issues I hear have to do with concerns about gentrification and lack of communication.

I believe a lot of this began when rumors surfaced that several owners of property along East Ninth Street had been approached about selling. That created the impression in some that a major redevelopment plan was in the works that East Lawrence leaders had no knowledge of.

A little-known west Lawrence investor was the one approaching property owners, but Krsnich confirmed he had discussions with the investor. Further, Krsnich told me he definitely has interest in buying more property in the area.

“I would love to buy everything along Ninth Street to protect and preserve the historic buildings and to further the arts movement,” Krsnich said.

But Krsnich said the key point is he doesn’t have any deals pending, and he first would need to find more capital before he could complete any deals. Such talk, though, is creating unease with some — although not all — in the neighborhood. Walsh has talked about the concern of gentrification, the idea that as development occurs in an area, property values rise and longtime residents are priced out of the neighborhood.

The issue of gentrification is a sticky wicket. Some note there are worse problems for a neighborhood to have, but if you are one of the residents who get priced out of your rental, you may disagree. But Krsnich notes the Poehler Lofts and the proposed 9 Del Lofts apartment buildings are both largely rent-controlled properties that can only rent to individuals who meet certain income guidelines.

Walsh and a few other neighborhood leaders have called on Krsnich to be more open about his plans for the neighborhood. They have lobbied for Krsnich to hold a neighborhood meeting to discuss his plans. But Krsnich said he is being open by saying he has hopes, but no plans, for future development in the neighborhood.

“If there is a big plan, my contractors, my architect, my engineers and, most importantly, my wife have no idea about it,” Krsnich said. “These plans just don’t exist.”

Important to note is that city commissioners have seem unfazed by all of this. Commissioners at their meeting last week approved another round of financial incentives for the area, specifically the 9 Del Lofts project. As part of the approval, Commissioner Jeremy Farmer unloaded on the issue. He said some residents are asking for “inane and completely unnecessary meetings” and that some of this is being done in the spirit of simply trying to “stir up trouble” and to dissuade development. He said he finds it “quite sickening.”

As I mentioned earlier, there is no shortage of spice in the neighborhood currently.

In other news and notes from around town:

• There is another reason to keep your eye on the eastern reaches of Ninth Street. City officials are expecting word any day now on a $500,000 grant that would remake Ninth Street between Massachusetts and Delaware streets. The idea involves adding public art along the corridor, multimodal pathways and events that highlight the “iconoclastic, free-thinking past and present” of the area.

Lawrence is one of 97 finalists for the ArtPlace America grant program. This is the second year in a row the city has been a finalist. I’m not a handicapper of such things, but I would tell you that optimism levels are very high in certain circles that Lawrence will be among the winners announced in the coming days. I don’t know if they have received some preliminary communication or what is fueling the optimism, but community leaders believe they have a substantially stronger proposal than they did a year ago.

• Don’t forget to look at west Lawrence every now and then. Soon, there will be a major new road project underway. The Kansas Department of Transportation recently awarded an $18.2 million bid to Perry-based Hamm Inc. to build an interchange for the South Lawrence Trafficway and Bob Billings Parkway. Now that the bid has been awarded, look for construction to begin soon. I’ve got a call into KDOT on a more exact start date. Previously, KDOT leaders have said the interchange will be open prior to the eastern leg of the SLT being completed in 2016. When opened, Bob Billings Parkway will become a major new gateway into Lawrence and the KU campus.

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