Plans filed for new business center along 23rd Street; construction underway at Lawrence QuikTrip

Lawrence may soon have a new business park, and to understand its name you might need to be a fan of tractors.

Plans have been filed at City Hall to build the 8N Business Center on the approximately three acres along East 23rd Street that used to house Kaw Valley Industrial. If the name leaves you confused, that might be a sign you don’t spend enough time on a tractor. The name 8N refers to the model number of perhaps the most popular tractor ever made by the Ford Motor Company. It is like the Mustang of tractors. (I had an 8N growing up, but oddly, I think my date would have rather gone to prom in the Mustang.)

The 8N Business Center name is a nod to the history of the property at 1105 E. 23rd St. Kaw Valley Industrial was there for 31 years and sold quite a few of the 8N models as part of its farm supply business. But before Kaw Valley occupied the property it actually was a Ford tractor dealership.

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Regardless, you’re probably more interested in what the property is set to become. As I previously reported, a group led by Lawrence businessman Roger Johnson has purchased the property. A concept plan filed at City Hall shows three new commercial buildings will be built on the back portion of the property, which is currently vacant.

Plans call for the three buildings to total about 23,000 square feet. Johnson is designing them so they can be split up to easily accommodate up to nine businesses. Johnson told me he thinks the development will be popular with contractors and service businesses that are looking for a place that has both an office and a shop area with an overhead door. So, think of plumbers, heating and air companies, home builders and other types of businesses.

A concept plan for the 8N Business Center. Courtesy: Grob Engineering and City of Lawrence.

Johnson is a veteran of the Lawrence construction industry as the former owner of R.D. Johnson Excavating. The number of construction trade businesses in Lawrence has really declined after the housing bubble burst last decade. But Johnson sees signs that some of those types of business may be ready to grow again in Lawrence, and they’ll need shop and office space to do so.

“Really, we are just trying to do something here to keep some of those jobs from being filled by companies from the east (Kansas City),” Johnson said.

The project, though, does need to win some City Hall approvals. The back half of the property, which is accessible off of East 24th Street, isn’t currently zoned for commercial uses. It actually is zoned for residential uses. Johnson is seeking to have the property zoned for commercial strip development, which would allow for the construction shops and other types of commercial uses but would not allow for more industrial types of development.

The front part of the property — the part you see along 23rd Street — already is zoned for commercial use and has the building that used to house Kaw Valley Industrial. It is a rather old-looking industrial building that was constructed in the ’50s, I’ve been told. Johnson said he plans on keeping that building, but it will be refurbished.

“But we want it to still have that retro look,” Johnson said.

Johnson is open to a variety of uses for that building, but he said he doesn’t yet have a tenant.
Pending the necessary city approvals, construction on the new buildings should start by midsummer.

In other news and notes from around town:

You have perhaps noticed a significant amount of construction underway in the parking lot of the QuikTrip at 23rd and Haskell. Yes, I know we were all hoping that it was work to bury additional tanks to increase the store’s Slushee capacity. It is not. Company officials instead told me the work is part of a plan to add diesel fuel to the store’s offerings.

The Lawrence QuikTrip location currently sells only gasoline, meaning you are out of luck if you have one of the many types of vehicles that require diesel. That will change probably by mid-February, Mike Thornbrugh, a corporate spokesman for QuikTrip told me. The work underway now is the burying of the tank to house the diesel fuel. That will be followed by some new pumps. All told, eight fueling stations will sell diesel.

To be clear, the project is meant to accommodate traditional passenger trucks and cars that use diesel. QuikTrip isn’t making a play to attract semi-truck traffic at the store.