Nonprofit buys downtown parking lot in hopes of helping historic building
photo by: Nick Krug
Well, here’s one solution to the problem of finding a place to park downtown: Just buy yourself a parking lot. One has sold recently, and it may end up being a real boon for one of Lawrence’s oldest buildings.
The Lawrence Preservation Alliance confirmed it has finalized a deal with US Bank to buy the business’s small parking lot at the northeast corner of Ninth and Rhode Island streets. No, finding a parking space in downtown doesn’t qualify as a historic event. Rather, the Lawrence Preservation Alliance purchased the parking lot because it thinks it will help with the redevelopment of one of downtown’s more historic buildings.
The parking lot is across the street from the Turnhalle building. The Turnhalle building dates back to 1869, which makes it one of the oldest buildings in Lawrence. The Preservation Alliance bought the property in 2012 in an effort to make sure it didn’t deteriorate to the point of no return. In 2014, it sold the building to Tony Krsnich, who has redeveloped several of the old buildings in the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence.
But redeveloping the Turnhalle has been a tougher trick. While many repairs have been made to the building, it still sits empty and has much work left to be done. One of the many challenges to redeveloping the property has been a lack of parking. The building mainly relies on on-street parking that also is used by the many single-family homes along Rhode Island Street. That situation has caused concern for potential tenants, Krsnich said.
The parking lot across the street is seen as at least a partial solution. It has 32 spaces, and LPA already has created an agreement with Krsnich to lease the lot for use by Turnhalle.
“I think it is going to be huge,” Krsnich told me recently. “We have had a ton of interest. But we had to put inquiries kind of on hold because we couldn’t guarantee a tenant any dedicated parking. But know with that question answered again, I think we’ll have people knocking on our door.”
Preservation leaders hope so. They remained concerned enough about the future of the Turnhalle building that they took out a loan from its membership to purchase the parking lot. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Brown said that the lease payments from Krsnich are designed to cover its holdings costs, such as taxes and interest payments.
Dennis Brown, president of LPA, told me recently that the parking lot will help, but a redevelopment will still take some time.
“We are hoping within two years something will happen over there,” Brown said. “We’re not thinking that it has to be the greatest rehab of all time, but the doors need to be open there.”
What might go in the old building? It is hard to say. The main story has a large, open wooden floor area with a small stage and a small mezzanine. People frequently mention how something that has a connection to the building’s German history would be cool. (Think beer garden and perhaps sausages.) The building was the meeting place for the German-American community organization Turnverein. From 1869 to about 1920, the group was very active with a beer garden that was exempt from the Prohibition period due to a cultural exception in the law, a mini-bowling alley and a gymnastics studio for its membership, which took physical fitness seriously.
The basement of the building, though, is the spot that most recently housed a business. For years it was home to the Free State Glass studio. Brown, who has seen a lot of rehabilitation projects, is betting the building ultimately will have a mix of uses. He pointed to how Liberty Hall redeveloped. The video store and coffee shop happened before the grand theater renovation. In other words, a smaller project might be what Turnhalle needs to get the ball rolling.
“It needs something that gets a foot in the door, and then go from there,” Brown said. “It is not going to be easy, though. The town is going to have to be supportive and the neighborhood and preservationists too.”
In other news, you may remember that the Lawrence Preservation Alliance also recently purchased the 1880s brick home that is just south of the Turnhalle building. Upon purchase, the LPA placed several covenants on the 904 Rhode Island St. property designed to ensure that its general design and historic features can’t be changed upon renovation.
When it purchased the property in July, the intention was to sell the house to somebody who was ready to buy it as their home and make the many needed upgrades. The house had been vacant for more than a year.
A sale, however, hasn’t yet happened, Brown told me. LPA, though, believes its plan for the property is still on track.
“We have had people go through the property and look at it, but we haven’t found the right buyer yet,” Brown said.
The group is asking $157,500 for the property.