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Update on the future of East Lawrence's debated Quonset hut; longtime Lawrence chef joins local brewery project; more plans for affordable housing
Yesterday I told you about plans for a pair of new, architecturally interesting apartment buildings that developers hope to construct in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District. Today, I have news in the same neighborhood about another piece of interesting architecture: the old Quonset hut-like building at the former Black Hills Energy site.
You perhaps remember it. The old metal building is across the street from the Poehler Lofts building near Eight and Delaware streets. Black Hills Energy once tried to tear the building down, but some neighbors and historic preservationists objected. Some people think a Quonset hut is a good example of period architecture. Other people think Jabba the Hutt is more appealing. (To not offend either Quonset or Jabba the Hutt, it probably is best to call this building Quonset hut-like. It is not a Quonset brand, but looks similar.)
Regardless, the property has a new owner. A group led by Lawrence businessman Adam Williams has purchased the old Black Hills Energy maintenance yard near Eighth and Delaware streets.
Williams told me he doesn’t have any plans to tear down the building. He said, at the moment, he doesn’t have any real long term plans for the property. He said he thought it would be a good investment given the momentum of the Warehouse Arts District. Plus, the site can come in handy for one of Williams’ current projects.
Williams is part of a group that is renovating the old SeedCo building at 826 Pennsylvania St. into a brewery, restaurant and apartments. Construction work — which involves adding two stories to the building — is underway, and Williams is using the old Black Hills Energy site to store construction material.
Down the road, the site could be used to bottle and can beer made at the brewery, which will be dubbed the Lawrence Beer Company. Williams said there could be a number of other uses for the property too. A residential use may not be in the equation, as the property in the late 1800s had a facility that burned a lot of coal to produce gas. In the late 1990s, remediation work was done on the site, and state environmental officials have said the property poses no significant risk to the public. But the state did require deed restrictions that prohibit residential construction on the site.
The property is about two acres, and the building is about 7,000 square feet, Williams said. Williams said he was well aware of the Quonset hut debate when his group bought the property.
“We do like the building,” Williams said. “It an interesting building that is in decent shape. We think it has multiple uses. We’re just not sure which ones we want to pursue yet.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• I have additional news about the Lawrence Beer Company project. Ken Baker, the longtime Lawrence chef who previously owned Pachamamas restaurant, has signed on to be a partner and lead the food operations of the Lawrence Beer Company.
For 15 years, Baker owned Pachamamas, which gained a reputation as one of the leaders in fine dining in Lawrence and the region. Pachamamas closed in 2015, and Baker said he had been enjoying his “semi-retirement” from the food business.
“I had a lot of offers to do other projects, but nothing really excited me,” Baker said. “When I met these guys, it sounded like something I could really throw my back into.”
Pachamamas was known for having fancy food, or, perhaps more accurately, new world cuisine. (To this day, when I want to look international I wear a tie with stains on it from a Pachamamas meal.) But don’t expect the same type of menu at the Lawrence Beer Company.
Baker didn’t give me a full rundown of the menu, but he gave me some hints. He said a rotisserie is being installed, and there would be “a lot of open fire cooking” and a wood-fired oven, all situated where patrons can easily watch the cooking process.
Baker said the menu will feature some entrees but will have a heavy focus on small plates and shared plates. As for the type of food, I didn’t get a lot of hints there, although Baker said some of the dishes would take advantage of the spent grains used in the brewing process.
“It is going to be a little bit different than standard brew pub fare,” Baker said. “But it should all be familiar too. We definitely want it geared to eat with beer.”
Baker joins the brewery group that includes Adam Williams, a local real estate developer, Matt Williams, a local liquor executive, and Brendon Allen, who among other things will bring some local history to the project as the grandson of Phog Allen. Adam Williams said all the partners were excited to get Baker on board.
“Everybody knows Ken Baker and Pachamamas and the quality and service he created there,” Adam Williams said. “He just brings instant street cred to the venture.”
As I was writing this, I also got a bit more information from Matt Williams, who will serve as president of the brewery, about the beer offerings. Williams said the beer production will be overseen by a a brewer who learned his craft at Half Acre Beer Company in Chicago and at Boulevard in Kansas City. The lineup is expected to focus on a few core styles with a lot of rotating varieties, and a mix of “classic styles tweaked with different hop and malt varieties.”
Construction work on the site is well underway. Matt Williams said to look for a midsummer opening. When completed, the old building, he said, will feature large windows and garage doors that open onto a large wraparound deck. The deck will lead to a beer garden that will include Adirondack chairs, picnic tables, trees, casual sitting areas and yard games.
• Yesterday’s news was about how the developers of the Warehouse Arts District hope to again use state income tax credits to partially finance their affordable housing apartment projects. Well, there is at least one other local affordable housing project that also is seeking income tax credits from the state of Kansas. The Wheatland Investment Group out of Gardner is seeking tax credits for a project it hopes to build on the east side of O’Connell Road.
The project, dubbed the Estates of Lawrence, would have 38 apartment units. About 32 of them would be enrolled in the state’s rent-controlled program that requires they be offered at below-market rates to people who have incomes between 50 percent and 60 percent of the average median income in the county.
This project, though, wouldn’t involved traditional apartment buildings. Instead, it envisions more townhouse -like units. Plans call for a mix of two- and three-bedroom, two-story town homes with a garage. The town homes would be built in a four-plex style.
The project would be built on property just north and east of East 27th Terrace and O’Connell Road.
If this project sounds familiar, it may be because we reported on it around this time last year. Wheatland last year applied for the income tax credits but didn’t receive them. The process is a pretty competitive one, so it is not unusual that a project has to apply multiple times before it is successful.
Wheatland also is the group that is building the townhome-like units on the west side of O’Connell Drive, just a bit south of 23rd Street. That project is called Bethel Estates of Lawrence. It will feature one and two-bedroom units for qualifying seniors 55 and older. Construction work is well underway on that project. I’ve put a call into Wheatland officials for an update, but I would think some of those units will be ready for occupancy this spring.