Soon enough, you’ll start seeing big changes in downtown Lawrence. Construction work already is underway on a $19 million library expansion, work on a multistory hotel at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire should begin any day, and by summer work likely will be ongoing for a multistory apartment building at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire.
All that, though, may just be the beginning.
City commissioners have an innocuous looking item on their agenda tonight, but it may set the wheels in motion for a large amount of redevelopment in downtown in coming years.
On the city’s consent agenda is receipt of a report that outlines lots in downtown Lawrence that could be prime candidates for development. Among the pieces of property being highlighted are 11 of the city-owned surface parking lots in downtown.
The idea behind future redevelopment of the city-owned parking lots is simple: The city could enter into public-private partnerships where developers will build new retail or residential or office uses on the parking lots, but also would build public parking. The public parking might be in an above-ground garage, or more likely, in an underground parking garage. The city likely would insist on the new development providing at least as much, but probably more, parking than exists today.
The report on tonight’s agenda won’t finalize anything. It merely will get the ball rolling. If city commissioners approve their staff’s recommendation, the item will be referred to the city’s Historic Resources Commission and the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission for review. Ultimately, the city will need to make some type of statement that it supports more density — which in this case equals taller buildings — on New Hampshire and Vermont streets.
Given that in another year there likely will be at least four relatively new buildings that are five stories or taller on New Hampshire (Hobbs Taylor, the 901 Building, the hotel, and the apartment building at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire), the City Commission has already spoken on the issue.
But previously they’ve spoken in a piecemeal-fashion, one project at time. What seems to be coming down the pike is a broader plan that expresses support for the idea of more multistory building construction. This plan even will go so far as to highlight specific lots that may be appropriate for such development. The result likely would be that the multistory building trend would continue on New Hampshire Street and spread to Vermont Street.
You can click here to see the 39 parcels that city staff members have identified as having some potential for redevelopment. They’ve ranked the potential from low to high.
Most of the city parking lots, including the ones in the 1000, 900, 800 and 700 blocks of Vermont Street rank high. The same goes for city parking lots in the 800 and 700 blocks of New Hampshire Street. City parking lots even a little farther east get into the action. The city parking lot that has frontage on the 800 block of Rhode Island Street is listed as having high potential.
The report doesn’t list a lot of potential redevelopment on Massachusetts Street. Three properties are listed, the old Allen Press property at 1040 Massachusetts, the small Einstein Bros Bagel building that is next to a private parking lot at 1026 Massachusetts, and the vacant lot at 705 Massachusetts that is next to The Eldridge Hotel. We recently reported that a group associated with The Eldridge finalized a deal to purchase that property.
The report also lists a few other private properties as having high potential, including the private parking lots the Fritzel family has in the 600 block of Vermont Street near the Joseph A. Bank and Lawrence Chamber of Commerce building. The U.S. Post Office Building at 645 Vermont also is listed in the high category. All of the other buildings on the west side of the 600 block of Vermont Street, which include the Dempsey’s Burger building, Luminious Neon and the First State Bank & Trust building are listed as having medium potential.
It will be interesting to see how the Historic Resources Commission and neighborhoods near downtown treat the idea of a plan that could lead to large scale redevelopment of the area, and many more public-private partnerships in the future.
But as I said, don’t expect much to happen on this at tonight’s meeting. Tonight’s meeting largely is reserved for another type of public-private partnership: Land use hearings for the proposed Rock Chalk Park project in northwest Lawrence.