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Town Talk: City may locate police headquarters in new industrial park
I pity the poor guy who occasionally speeds a bit to get to work on time at the East Hills Business Park. There's a chance that he may not have to avoid just a single patrol car, but rather the whole Lawrence police force. There are new signs that the city's proposed police headquarters building may go on industrial land adjacent to East Hills Business Park.
City Hall officials have released a report updating their search for property to house the potentially 100,000-square-foot police headquarters building. A site at the city's newest industrial park, VenturePark, is getting a serious look. For those of you not up on your industrial park names, VenturePark is the former Farmland Industries site, which is just west of East Hills Business Park.
The city is evaluating anywhere from two to five lots that are basically at the northwest corner of 23rd and O'Connell. The city hasn't decided to move forward with the site, but the recent report said "One site that may be most favorable is on land already owned by the city at VenturePark." That may be what the folks in the literary business call foreshadowing. (Calm down, English majors. That was not your cue to start a lecture on To Kill a Mockingbird.)
The city is looking for a site of at least 13 acres. That would require at least two lots in VenturePark to be taken out of circulation for industrial purposes. The park, however, still would have about 15 other lots that could serve a variety of business and industrial users.
It will be interesting to see if the city commissioners pull the trigger on the site. It would save the city potentially $1 million or more on land acquisition costs. The site also is across the street from the Douglas County Jail, has easy access to not only 23rd Street, but soon to the South Lawrence Trafficway. It is also close to the Humane Society, which will make it handy for police department's animal control division.
City officials will have to consider whether having a police station in an industrial park would sour any potential industrial tenants. In some cases it may be a benefit. Some businesses may like the knowing that there is 24/7 police presence just down the street.
Commissioners also have other options, including another city owned site. The report says the 29-acres of city-owned property at Overland Drive and Wakarusa Drive are being evaluated. The property is basically behind the Wal-Mart, and once was considered as a potential site for a city recreation center.
If you remember, the city also received seven proposals from local landowners earlier this year. City staff is recommending a majority of those proposals be rejected for reasons ranging from size problems, geography problems or access issues. But staff members are recommending three of the sites receive further consideration. They are:
• Up to 50 acres along the southern edge of 31st Street between Ousdahl and Louisiana. The property would be adjacent to the South Lawrence Trafficway. Staff is recommending the site remaining in the running, but noted there could be potential floodplain concerns.
• Two sites in the Fairfield Farms commercial development near 23rd and O'Connell Road also are receiving further review. Both sites are around 15 acres and generally are near the area where Tractor Supply is located. Both sites have good access to 23rd Street and the future South Lawrence Trafficway, and are near the Douglas County Jail.
• About 14 acres along Franklin Road in what is known as the Mt. Blue Addition. The property is near the Douglas County Jail. Staff is recommending this site receive further study, as a potential alternative to the Fairfield Farms site.
The city report also said there has been some interest shown in the vacant property that is just east of the Hallmark Cards plant and adjacent to the administration building. But that property, which is along the Kansas Turnpike, is 47 acres, and thus far the property is only being offered as a single piece. The report notes the city may have interest in that property if a smaller tract could be purchased.
The city also acknowledged that early in the process it unsuccessfully tried to strike a deal with Kansas University Endowment for a piece of well-situated West Lawrence property. The city was interested in vacant property at the southeast corner of Kasold Drive and Bob Billings Parkway. They city and the university have a history of striking some deals, including the use of university property to house Fire Station No. 5 near 19th and Iowa streets. More recently, the city agreed to a deal to pay for substantially all the needed infrastructure for the Rock Chalk Park sports complex that will be primarily used by KU. But the city was notified that the university's "long-term plans for the property made it unwise to commit to a non-university related use at this time."
There's been no timeline announced for how quickly the city may make a decision on a site for the police headquarters, but the issue has picked up considerable momentum in the last few weeks. Commissioners will receive the report at their Tuesday evening meeting, so it is conceivable they may direct staff to begin focusing on a particular site.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Earlier this week, we reported on an expansion project at API Foils in the East Hills Business Park. Well, I now have more details, and it appears the project could produce five to 15 new jobs at the manufacturer in the near term.
Currently, API's Lawrence operations have about 70 jobs, with a mix of administrative and production positions. The new jobs largely would be production jobs, Brad Mueller, president of API Foils, told me.
Mueller said the expansion project — which already has begun construction — is designed to improve the capacity and quality of foils produced at the plant. The foils are used in a variety of consumer packaging applications, ranging from greetings cards to candy to health care products.
The expansion product is expected to cost $4 million and increase the plant's production capacity by about 25 percent, Mueller said.
"Ultimately, we have found some customers that we can grow with," said Mueller. "It is a service-oriented business, and we have been blessed to form some good relationships."
Mueller said he expects the expansion project to be completed by mid-July. He said the company could start hiring in the fourth quarter or in early 2015.
• Get ready for a longterm traffic disruption on 31st Street. The Kansas Department of Transportation has announced that the portion of 31st Street between Louisiana Street and a point just a bit east of Ousdahl will close on Tuesday. The road is expected to be closed through the summer of 2015.
As previously reported, the closing is part of the work on the South Lawrence Trafficway. Eventually — perhaps in July — the portion of 31st Street between Haskell and Louisiana also will be closed for a long period.
This most recent closing also means that motorists won't be able to cross 31st Street at Louisiana. There is one small business area south of 31st Street that will be impacted by the closure. Visitors to the area — which includes Steve's Place, a meeting and reception hall — will need to take a series of county roads to access the business.
According to a representative of the business, motorists will need to travel south on Iowa Street to North 1100 Road, then travel east on North 1100 to East 1400 Road, then travel north on North 1400 Road to the business.