An update on what is going in the old M&M Office Supply building in downtown Lawrence
Effects of KU’s construction boom soon may become a little more evident on downtown’s Massachusetts Street. No, construction crews still seem disinclined to let me take a bulldozer for a spin, but you should look for a new high-profile office of an engineering firm that is expanding, in part, because of all the work going on at KU.
Perhaps you have noticed construction work is underway on the old M&M Office Supply building at 623 Massachusetts. Well, part of that work is to accommodate a new office for Professional Engineering Consultants.
For a number of years, the company — which primarily goes by PEC — has had a Lawrence office at Sixth and Vermont streets in the building that houses the local accounting firm The McFadden Group. Jarrod Mann, principal and Lawrence office lead for PEC, told me the engineering firm was quickly outgrowing that space.
That led the company to sign a deal to lease the entire second floor of the old M&M Office Supply building.
“We’ve been having a lot of growth in our staff,” Mann said. “This will let us almost double the amount of square footage that we have available.”
PEC’s Lawrence office has grown from just a handful of employees since it entered the Lawrence market in 1999 to 18 employees currently. The new space easily will allow the firm to grow to 30 employees. Mann offered no timetable on when the company may see that type of growth, but he said business has been good.
The historic amount of construction underway at the University of Kansas campus has certainly played a role in the company’s growth. PEC is working on parts of the Central District construction projects, and the company has an on-call contract to do work for the university. Mann also cited several projects by hospitals in the region that have aided the company’s growth, and the Kansas Department of Transportation continues to be a good customer, despite the strained finances of the state.
The Lawrence office serves the greater northeast Kansas area, Mann said. The company is based in Wichita, but also has offices in Topeka, Pittsburg, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Fort Collins.
The company is an example of the type of firm that economic development leaders would be wise to keep an eye on. When I talk about Lawrence striving to be the “Creative Capital of the Great Plains,” this is an example of a company I’m talking about. Engineers, architects, software designers, marketing firms and other such businesses that rely on a large number of creative minds are attractive types of jobs. And Lawrence may be an attractive type of community for those types of workers, who often place a high value on quality-of-life factors.
The engineering industry also is a good example of where Lawrence may have something that Kansas City can’t offer. The Kansas City metro does not have an engineering school that can compete with KU’s. If you are an engineering firm that wants to be close to a pipeline of new talent, Lawrence may have some advantages over KC.
In talking with Mann, the other thing I noted is that companies are starting to notice a synergy in downtown Lawrence. Mann told me that when PEC started looking for new office space, it definitely wanted to stay in downtown Lawrence. The reason: Many of an engineering firm’s largest clients are architects, and downtown Lawrence has a lot of architects. Treanor, Gould Evans, Sabatini, and Paul Werner are all fairly large firms that are based in the downtown area.
Communities with successful economies usually find a synergy they can exploit to their advantage. Who knows, maybe this is one for Lawrence.
As for the PEC project, look for the company to move into its new offices sometime in May.
• PEC remodeling work is not the only thing going on with the M&M building. As we have reported, the facade of the building is getting a whole new look. The stucco, 1970s style largely will be gone, and more bricks and windows will take its place.
The big unanswered question, though, is what else may go into the building. PEC is taking the entire second floor, but the ground floor may be primed to bring in new retailers. In case you have forgotten, the building is unique in downtown because the building — which used to be a car dealership years ago — is set off of Massachusetts Street a few feet. That allows for private parking stalls at the front door of the building, rather than the metered parking spaces that dominate the rest of Massachusetts Street.
Allison Vance Moore with the Lawrence office of Colliers International is marketing the ground-floor space to retailers. She said the space could accommodate one larger retailer or two smaller ones, but she said she didn’t have any updates on potential tenants yet.