Folks in certain Lawrence real estate circles have been keeping their eyes on the vacant property just south of Fire Station No. 5 near 19th and Iowa streets.
Well, it probably is a good piece to keep an eye on, but perhaps not for the reasons many people have been thinking. There's been speculation that the city may be interested in that piece of KU Endowment-owned land to house a possible police headquarters building.
But now there are signs that it may be more likely to house a joint city/university transit bus hub. I was at a recent meeting of the city's Public Transit Advisory Committee, and that group was briefed on a proposal by KU officials to focus on the northeast corner of 21st and Iowa streets to serve as the hub/primary transfer station for all the transit buses in the city.
That's would be a change in strategy. In June, city commissioners directed staff members to focus on a site near Ninth and Iowa streets behind The Merc for a transit hub location.
But city officials tell me now that KU officials aren't wild about that location. KU's buy-in is important because the estimated $3 million transit hub will serve both KU and city buses. I'm told KU officials are interested in a location that's handier for KU students. The 21st and Iowa area is just a few blocks from the Daisy Hill area where a majority of KU's dormitories are.
Members of the city's transit advisory board said they would recommend further study on the site. If you remember, that group originally favored locating the transit hub on property adjacent to KU's Memorial Stadium. City commissioners, though, didn't take to that idea. Recently, KU officials sent word that they no longer would be supportive of that site either, transit board members were told.
So, it looks like that is one site that can be crossed off the list. Whether the Ninth and Iowa site soon will join it is an open question, but I expect the 21st and Iowa proposal to get a serious look by all involved.
In fact, the situation may lend itself to some wheeling and dealing. I've had some city officials tell me that there is another piece of KU Endowment-owned land that the city may be interested in for a possible police headquarters: vacant land near Bob Billings Parkway and Kasold Drive. KU officials have been holding that land in reserve for decades to accommodate future expansion of KU's West Campus. At the moment it is just grassland, and you certainly could make the case that it is the most expensive hay pasture in Lawrence. I'm sure KU officials have been presented with multiple plans to do something with that property over the years, and they haven't jumped at any of them. It will be interesting to see if they have any interest in a venture to help the city locate a police headquarters.
One last interesting item that came out of all this is: Why would KU be looking at 21st and Iowa for transit hub instead of placing it in the giant KU Park and Ride lot, which is essentially just across the street from 21st and Iowa?
The question came up at the city's transit advisory board meeting. Robert Nugent, the city's public transit administrator, told board members his understanding is that the longterm future of the park and ride lot is a little uncertain. He said KU officials have indicated that KU's master planning process contemplates that area becoming a combination KU research/private business park. Indeed, if you look at some of the draft documents in KU's master plan process, you see that area designated as one for a future partnership.
I'm not the guy who is closely tied into the thinking of KU leaders, but I suspect this idea of a public/private business park on KU's West Campus is going to get serious consideration. I know the success of the Bioscience & Technology Business Center on KU's West Campus has opened a lot of eyes. Big companies — companies like Garmin — who don't need incubation have been drawn to the center simply because they want to have a physical presence next to KU researchers. KU is fairly limited in the amount of space it can offer to those companies currently, but a business park on West Campus would change that.
In fact, a successful business park on West Campus could change a whole lot of things in this community. Buses or not, this is one area to keep a close eye on.