Take a look at East Lawrence’s latest multimillion dollar project; city prepares for discussion on economic development incentives
The latest multimillion dollar project in East Lawrence is nearly complete, and now it is time to weigh in on its distinctive look.
Work on the 9 Del Lofts affordable housing project is wrapping up at the corner of Ninth and Delaware streets. The project is the latest by a group led by Tony Krsnich, who developed the nearby Poehler Lofts and the Warehouse Arts District.
As we reported months ago, Krsnich set out to build the new four-story 9 Del Lofts building with an architectural style that is much more modern than the old buildings that dominate the rest of the district. Krsnich, who is an award-winning historic preservationist, said he doesn’t like architecture that tries to make new buildings look old. He told me he wanted a building that 50 years from now would be recognized as a building that came from this time period. So, take a look.
“People are either going to love or hate the look of the building,” Krsnich said. “I don’t think there will be much in between. We’ve tried really hard to make it look creative.”
The Kansas City architecture firm el dorado inc. — which is the same group leading planning efforts on the Ninth Street Corridor project — designed the building. It has said it was looking for a a building that would convey the light industrial heritage of the neighborhood. So, the building uses what looks a lot like the sheet metal siding you would find on a lot of industrial or agricultural buildings. Various shades of metal are used, and strips of bright yellow are used to add another element to catch the eye. In time, the metal is expected to take on an interesting patina as it ages.
The building also has LED lighting on its exterior in several of the crevices where the structure protrudes. The lighting kicks on near dusk and gives the building a glowing look at night. I haven’t seen it yet at night, but will be out and about this evening and will try to take a picture of it.
“I was scared of the design at first,” Krsnich said. “But I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. I kept having people ask me whether I was going to make it look like the Poehler building or the Cider Gallery. I told them neither. I was going to take a chance. We don’t think of it, but the buildings we build today will be a part of history too. I’m really curious to know what people think of it,”
As someone who once aspired to be an architect before I had that unfortunate incident with the T-square, I’m curious too. Lawrence is going through a significant time period of new construction of large buildings. Some of them have been designed to look old, some of them have been designed to just exist, and some have tried to add a more modern look. The library project and adjacent parking garage are probably the leading example of a public project that has gone with a more distinctive design. And, I think it is fair to say, some people love it and some people hate it. Who knows how much longer the building boom will continue, but it will be interesting to see how the architectural style of the city develops.
As for the 9 Del Lofts project, it has 43 units of apartments, with most of the units rent-controlled. Krsnich’s group used state-issued tax credits to help finance the project. Those tax credits come with a condition that most units in the building must be rent-controlled and offered only to tenants that meet certain income guidelines.
Krsnich said 34 of the units will be rent-controlled. Rents will range from $500 for a one-bedroom to $800 for a three-bedroom. All units, whether they are rent-controlled or not, will feature stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, polished concrete floors and other amenities.
Krsnich told me this morning that the project has all but about 10 of the units leased. People started moving in last week. You can get a closer look at the project on Friday, when it hosts an open house and celebration with food and live music. The ribbon cutting is set for 4:30 p.m. The open house and tours run from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
In other news and notes from around town:
• City commissioners are scheduled to discuss a couple of topics at their study session this afternoon. Affordable housing is one of them, and economic development is another.
Economic development, and the use of financial incentives and other such items, was such a big topic during the City Commission campaign. But thus far, the commission hasn’t had much of a discussion about the topic. We’ll see if that comes today.
Commissioners will have plenty of information to review. One piece will be the city’s 2014 economic development report. Back in April we reported on that document’s findings, but here’s a reminder of some of the highlights.
— From 2011 to 2014, the public has provided $591,254 in property tax abatements to manufacturing and other industrially based companies. The abatements have helped the companies — Amarr Garage Doors, Prosoco, Grandstand Glass and Sportswear, and Sunlite Science & Technology — add 330 jobs with an average salary of $37,918 a year. The companies also have invested about $21 million in new plant and equipment upgrades.
— From 2011 to 2014, the public has provided $2.9 million in tax incentives — namely tax rebates and approvals for special taxing districts — for hotel, low-income apartment, retail development, and office development projects. The city doesn’t track the number of jobs or salaries created by those projects, but rather measures the amount of new construction added by the developments. The city estimates those projects — which include The Oread hotel, the Bauer Farm development at Sixth and Wakarusa, the Treanor Architects downtown headquarters and multiple developments in the Warehouse Arts District — have resulted in about $55 million in new investments.
— The city thus far has spent $2.04 million in infrastructure upgrades to help support the new Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence, which also includes the rent-controlled Poehler Lofts apartment building.
— The city in 2014 spent $341,540 to help support the Bioscience & Technology Business Center on KU’s West Campus. Since 2006, the city has spent $3.5 million to support the center, which helps young science and technology companies get started. That’s in addition to funding that Douglas County has provided the center. At the end of 2014, the BTBC estimated that the 31 companies it works with had 136 employees with an annual payroll of $8.1 million.
The headline number in the report, though, was that in 2014 for “every $1 in public sector investment, approximately $5.40 in private sector capital investment is realized.” I guess another way of saying that is that the public is about a 15 percent partner in the projects, although not technically because the public doesn’t actually own a portion of the projects. And it also is important to remember that many times the public's investment comes in the form of forgiving taxes rather than taking existing money out of the public's coffers.
Still, it will be interesting to see if the number sparks a discussion. The statistic does a pretty good job of highlighting how economic development has changed over the years. For a long time, the key statistic in economic development was jobs created and the wages those jobs paid. That’s still the case with a couple of the city’s economic development programs: Traditional tax abatements given to industrial businesses; and public assistance given to fund the incubator program that houses start-up science and technology firms.
Both of those programs have job numbers to tout. The tax abatement program has produced 330 jobs with an average salary of $37,918. If you do the math, that equates to annual payroll of about $12.5 million that is injected into the local economy. The public in 2014 provided $181,318 in traditional tax abatements.
The incubator project on KU’s West Campus reports its companies have created 131 jobs with an annual payroll of $8.1 million. The city spent $341,540 on that program in 2014. I believe the county spent about that much as well.
But where jobs become less of an issue is in the Neighborhood Revitalization Act, tax increment financing and transportation development districts. Those programs provide property tax rebates, sales tax rebates, and allow for the creation of special taxing districts for projects such as hotels, retail development, apartments and other types of nonindustrial projects. The city doesn’t really track jobs created or the wages paid by those developments. But the public does provide a lot of assistance for those programs. In 2014 it totaled $642,633. That’s more than the other two programs combined.
Now, the city points out that it doesn’t really track job totals because those programs haven’t been designed to create new jobs. When the state created the laws that gave cities the ability to offer these types of incentives, it was done with the idea of helping blighted areas of a community become revitalized. One way to measure revitalization is by measuring the amount of new construction and investment that has happened as a result of the projects. The city estimates that projects that used those NRA, TIF, TDD incentives have made about $55 million worth of private investments in buildings and such. The question is, how do you measure the public’s return on that private investment?
Property taxes paid is one way, but probably shouldn’t be the only way because the public doesn’t fare too well in that calculation. But that is obvious. The public is providing property tax rebates well in excess of 50 percent on most of these projects, so by definition the public is providing more tax rebates than they are receiving in taxes. Some of the projects also receive large rebates on sales taxes generated by the projects. Most of the times those rebates last for 10 years to 20 years.
None of this is to say, though, that the public’s investment in those projects has been a poor decision. I’m just trying to point out that the city has struggled with how to measure it. Certainly, there are arguments to be made that the projects wouldn’t have been built without the incentives, and the public doesn’t enjoy any gain from a project that isn’t built. And commissioners also have argued that there are intangible benefits to some of these projects. What’s the value of having a run-down lot at Ninth and New Hampshire and replacing it with a multistory hotel/retail project?
The past commission seemed to have reached its own understanding about the intangible benefits of such projects. It is unclear that this new commission has reached such an understanding. I think the current commission will have a discussion about what role job creation should play in all incentive programs offered by the city. Discussions like the one this afternoon may provide glimpse at where this commission ultimately will land.
New four-story East Lawrence lofts building to have distinctive design; city to add recycling containers downtown
East Lawrence's Warehouse Arts District already has provided us some interesting things to look at. The district's Cider Gallery and the host of art studios adjacent to it put out a lot of distinctive work.
But now, we'll find out if Lawrence is ready for four-stories of distinctive. As we have previously reported, plans are in the works for a new four-story loft-style apartment building at 900 Delaware Street. That's just a bit south and east of the Poehler lofts, the converted four-story warehouse that served as the impetus for the Warehouse Arts District.
Even though they will be similar in size, don't expect the new 43-unit apartment building to look anything like the old Poehler building, which has that classic, turn-of-the-20th-century brick warehouse look.
Instead, plans call for the new building, which is being dubbed 9 Del Lofts, to be a bit unlike any other apartment building in Lawrence. I don't have an architecture degree (you build one garden shed without a door . . . ), so I don't know how to describe the style. But it seems more modern, to me, than what is normally built in Lawrence. You can see some renderings of the project below.
The Kansas City-based architecture firm el dorado inc. has designed the building. In a letter to city officials, the company said it was looking for a design that evoked the "authentic expression of the light industrial nature of the surrounding Warehouse Arts District."
The result is that the two most visible facades of the building will be covered in "standing seam metal" of various shades and widths. The architects tout the material as being low maintenance, and said the material will gain an interesting patina as it ages.
As you can see in the rendering below, there also will be small areas of bright colors on the building, which the architects said "will reveal themselves from oblique angles and will also reflect colored light on the metal panels as the sun moves across the sky.)
The project already has received its major approvals from City Hall, and construction is set to begin soon. But this design wasn't what was proposed when commissioners last saw the building, so city commissioners are being asked to approve the new renderings tonight. Approval is expected — the item is on the city's consent agenda — and the city code doesn't really regulate the exterior aesthetics of residential buildings.
I haven't had a chance to talk with the project's lead developer Tony Krsnich, since these renderings came out, but I'm not surprised that it is a more contemporary design. When we first reported on the project back in August, Krsnich said he would take a different architectural approach.
"I can always tell when somebody builds something new and tries to make it look like it was built at the turn of the century," Krsnich said back then. "I think it is important that all development be true to the time that it was built in."
Other details of the 9 Del Lofts project are mostly unchanged since we last reported. The development will have 43 units: 23 one-bedroom lofts, 16 two-bedroom lofts, and 4 three-bedroom lofts. The project has received housing tax credits from the state of Kansas, which means that the majority of the units will be rent-controlled. The system will be similar to the one at the Poehler Lofts, which is also owned Krsnich's development group: Residents will have to meet certain income guidelines to rent one of the rent-controlled units.
I hope to get in touch with Krsnich soon to get more details about the timeline for the project, and I believe he also is close to announcing a tenant for a small bistro/wine bar space adjacent to the Poehler building.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Today is like the day I got ahold of the Polaroid when I was a kid: I've got lots of photos to share with you. (Hopefully, I don't end up passing out from the wonderful smell of that developing fluid this time. And hopefully you don't ground me for three weeks either.)
Regardless, look below and you'll find another photo, this one showing the latest thing slated to come to downtown Lawrence.
City officials have provided an update on their plans to launch the citywide, curbside recycling program in mid-October. All is going well on that front, we're told. Automated trucks have been ordered, and Hamm Inc. is in the process of rehabilitating an existing industrial building at the intersection of U.S. Highway 24/40 and Kansas 32 into a collection and recovery facility for the curbside program.
But one piece of information that is new is the plan to make downtown Lawrence a more recycling-friendly place. In November, the city plans to install 20 dual-use trash and recycling containers throughout downtown. They'll replace the existing trash cans on the sidewalks. One side of the container will be for trash, and the other will be for all types of recyclable materials, such as paper receipts, plastic sacks, aluminum pop cans, water bottles, and other such things that you may have on you while downtown. (This is good news to a special someone in my house: Now she can be more environmentally friendly in how she ignores her parking tickets.)
The city will spend about $30,000 to purchase the dual-use containers. They'll start with 20 containers, but may expand the number in 2015, depending on usage patterns.
In the grand scheme of things, this is a small part of a large program, but I know it will please some folks. I have heard from people that it was becoming difficult to call Lawrence progressive when it was lacking recycling containers in its showcase area of town.
• Don't worry when you notice in the future that the Hertz On Demand self-service rent-a-car disappears from its designated space in the city-owned parking lot. A special someone in my house did not illegally park it and cause it to be impounded. Instead, Hertz is pulling the plug on its Hertz On Demand rent-a-car program in Lawrence.
Back in February we reported on the new program. It allows people to sign up for the program and get a swipe card that will unlock the doors to the car, which had a dedicated parking spot at Eighth and New Hampshire. When you needed the car to run an errand around town or such, you signed up and paid online, and then could take the car with your card.
City officials were glad to give use of the parking spot because they thought it was a good example of a green program. But for whatever reason, the program hasn't taken off here or elsewhere, it appears. According to a city memo, Hertz will soon be removing the car due to "technology and participation challenges." The memo notes that the challenges were system-wide and not just specific to the Lawrence location.