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What's being built near Sixth and Wakarusa, plus other updates on Lawrence's building scene

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I don’t know what it means when a community’s top building projects are hotels and churches, but that’s the case thus far in Lawrence in 2017.

It has been awhile since we have looked at the city’s building totals, but there’s a new report out at City Hall that measures building activity through August. In a nutshell, it is not as robust as it has been the past couple of years. But remember, 2015 and 2016 were two of the best building years in the city’s history.

Thus far, city officials have issued building permits for $96.5 million worth of projects. At this time last year the city had issued permits for $145.5 million worth of projects and in 2015 it was at $187.8 million in new construction.

This year’s total is still pretty good historically. Dating back to 2009, this year’s total is the fourth highest, trailing only the two years mentioned above and 2013.

The largest project of the year, thus far, is one that people just now are starting to see come out of the ground near Sixth and Wakarusa. City officials have issued permits for a $4 million Tru by Hilton hotel at 510 Wakarusa Drive.

We reported on the Tru by Hilton back in December when plans were filed with the city. As a reminder, plans call for the building to be four stories tall and have 82 guest rooms. The hotel will be a bit of a different one. The Tru brand dubs itself as the place where “cost-conscious meets cool conscious.” (I always thought that meant wearing the $2.99 aviator sunglasses from the convenience store, but Tru may have a different idea.) As for how the hotel will be cool, look for a more modern flair in design, furniture and a lobby that is hiply called a “Hive.”

The second largest project in the city also is a hotel. The city has issued permits for $3.9 million in construction for a Country Inn & Suites hotel at 2176 E. 23rd St., where Don’s Steakhouse used to be. (Ah, Don’s. I don’t know if it was cost-conscious meeting cool-conscious, but I do miss briefly losing consciousness after eating about a half-dozen twice-baked potatoes at Don’s.) That hotel will be an 89-room extended-stay property. The project is well underway, with crews currently installing the exterior stone and other finishes on the building.

The third and fourth largest projects in town are both churches. Construction work began recently on Connect Church at 31st and Iowa. As we have reported, that’s the church that used to be known as Lawrence Wesleyan Church and is selling its church facility at 3705 Clinton Parkway to a group that will redevelop it as an office building. The city has issued a building permit for $3.6 million for the Connect Church.

An addition at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1208 Kentucky St., is the fourth largest project in the city. The city has issued $3 million in building permits for a project that is adding a gymnasium and a performing arts center. You’ll be able to judge for yourself how big the addition is if you go to St. John’s popular Oktoberfest this weekend, although a certain German beverage has been known to distort judgments.

Even though it is not a church or a hotel, I might as well report on project No. 5, which in some ways is the most exciting. The city has issued $2.8 million in permits for a renovation at the Bioscience and Technology Business Center. As we reported in June, KU is converting the basement level of the BTBC building on West Campus into a multimillion dollar, high security clearance laboratory.

The hope is that the National Security Laboratory will enable KU scientists to do more research for the Department of Defense and other U.S. government agencies. If you are scoring at home, we want Department of Defense folks on campus these days, not the FBI.

The Department of Defense work could be very lucrative. KU currently does about $1 million a year in research related to the Department of Defense. With the laboratory in place, KU believes it could see that total grow to about $20 million within three years.

One last bit of building permit news, despite real estate agents continually talking about a shortage of homes on the market, builders have not responded with a surge in single-family home construction. In fact, the number of single family and duplex home permits is down a bit from last year. Thus far, the city has issued 118 permits, compared with 123 during the same period a year ago. This year’s total is also down from 170 permits that were issued through August of 2015.

Maybe builders aren’t constructing as many homes, but they are building some really big ones. The city already has issued three permits this year for homes that cost more than $1 million. The top one is a $1.75 million property in the 1700 block of Lake Alvamar Drive. There’s also a pair of $1.2 million homes: one in the 100 block of N. Wilderness Way and another in the 200 block of Running Ridge Road. Both of those are in the Fall Creek Farms development near Peterson Road and Monterey Way.

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