Downtown restaurant owners to open bistro in East Lawrence; city named one of best small college towns in America
Even though plans for my Magnum P.I. mustache got vetoed, I’m still working to solve the mystery of a new bistro that is now under construction in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District. Here are two new clues: The project involves a 33-foot long food truck and the owners of downtown Lawrence’s The Burger Stand restaurant.
Simon and Codi Bates, the owners of The Burger Stand at 803 Massachusetts St., told me they indeed have signed a lease to operate a new bistro in the small building that is just west of the Poehler Lofts building at Eighth and Pennsylvania streets.
We’ve reported multiple times that Tony Krsnich, who leads the group that has developed the Warehouse Arts District, wants to have a bistro in the small, historic stone building. But until now, we haven’t known who would operate the business.
We still don’t know exactly what the new restaurant will include. Codi and Simon said they weren’t ready yet to announce a name for the project or to provide many details about the proposed menu. But one thing is clear: The bistro won’t be The Burger Stand East.
“We love burgers, but we also love other things too,” Codi said.
“We may put one burger on the menu, but no more than that,” Simon said. “We are friends with so many restaurant owners in downtown, and we don’t want to step on what other people are doing. It is going to be something that is different than what is offered currently.”
Codi said the menu will focus on “what we like to make for ourselves when we are home.” (I tried to get a loan for just such a concept once, but the banker said he didn’t think a restaurant that served sticks of butter dipped in sugar would pencil out.)
Simon said he’s reluctant to discuss details of the menu, in part, because he still has to figure out what can be made in a food truck. The stone building for the bistro is so small that it can’t accommodate a kitchen, so all food will be made from a food truck that is parked outside the bistro. Simon said a North Lawrence company currently is converting a 33-foot long U-Haul truck — the largest they could find — into a food truck. Simon, who is a classically trained chef who has worked in New York and Chicago, has never operated in a food truck before.
“We’re still a week away from getting the truck,” Simon said. “I really want to get in there and see what we can do with it.”
In addition to the food truck, the bistro also will have a coffee bar and pastries, Codi said. The plan is for the restaurant to offer a lot of grab-and-go options, especially for breakfast and lunch to serve the growing office crowd in the Warehouse Arts District.
The restaurant also will serve liquor, but both Simon and Codi said they are not looking to create a bar atmosphere for the business.
“First and foremost everyone is invited,” Simon said. “It will be a family-friendly place. We’re not looking at being a loud bar scene at all.”
Codi noted that she and Simon live in the neighborhood near the bistro. That is how they became interested in the project. She said they had watched as neighbors expressed concern that the bistro would become more of a bar than a restaurant. Codi said she and Simon started wondering what the project would look like if they became involved.
“We didn’t really need another project,” Codi said, “but we have 55 people on staff (at The Burger Stand) who are really talented. We feel like we can create another opportunity for some of our staff members.”
“We wanted something fun,” Simon said. “We love burgers and we really have become tied to that, but we also love to do different things. This is a passion project for us. We want to have fun with it, and we want it to be good for the neighborhood.”
The project does have to meet a city requirement that it make 55 percent or more of its sales from food rather than from alcohol sales. Codi said that wasn’t going to be a problem for the business.
As far as a timeline, interior demolition work on the building began this week. Codi and Simon are hoping for a late summer opening. I’ll let you know when I hear more details about the name and menu plans for the restaurant.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you have felt a special aura around town the last few weeks, it probably is because Lawrence has received another high ranking as a great place. This one slipped up on me, but Lawrence has been voted the fifth best small college town in America by readers of USA Today.
The contest looked a communities of fewer than 100,000 people that also are home to a university or college. The article, which ran on USA Today’s 10 Best website, called Lawrence “an eclectic mix of residents — students, musicians and retirees.” It also said Lawrence was home to one of the top music scenes in the Midwest and touted the Free State Festival and the BuskerFest.
Lawrence finished just above Iowa City, Iowa — which is where new City Manager Tom Markus came from — and just behind Flagstaff, Ariz. Athens, Ohio — home to the University of Ohio — was top on the list. The list ended up having some towns that you don’t necessarily think of as college towns. Santa Fe, N.M., was on the list at No. 8, and Williamsburg, Va., was No. 3.
Williamsburg — which is home to the College of William & Mary — is best known as a tourist town with lots of Revolutionary War-era re-enactors in Colonial Williamsburg. I guess that makes sense. Nothing says you have a town full of smart people like funny hats and wool britches in July.
Developer of Poehler building looking to file plans for new 34-unit affordable apartment project in East Lawrence
Tonight will be another big night for the Warehouse Arts District, which is what the area around the old Poehler Building at Eighth and Pennsylvania streets is being called.
As we reported last week, city commissioners tonight will consider investing several hundred thousand dollars into infrastructure repairs in the area to accommodate the latest phase of the project.
But the project will be well worth watching beyond tonight. The district’s lead developer, Tony Krsnich, confirmed to me that he soon will file plans for a brand new 34-unit apartment building for the area.
Krsnich said he has completed a deal to buy the vacant property directly south of the Poehler Building from Lawrence landowner Harold Shepherd. (If you are familiar with the area, the property is the one with the big Cottonwood tree on it, near the new city-built parking lot for the area.
The project isn’t an entirely done deal, though. Krsnich said he’ll file plans next month with the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, which is the group that hands out federal tax credits for affordable housing projects.
The housing credit program is a competitive one, and the Lawrence project will be competing against others across the state. Krsnich, though, had luck in winning credits from the program when he converted the old Poehler building into a 49-unit affordable apartment project.
It looks like Krsnich also is trying to sweeten the pot a bit with this application. He said the plans call for Lawrence-based Tenants to Homeowners to be a partner on this project. I haven’t yet had a chance to talk to the leaders of Tenants to Homeowners to find out exactly what its role will be, but the organization has a lot of credibility in the affordable housing sector in the state.
Krsnich also can point to the fact that demand for rent-controlled apartments in the Poehler building has been very strong. The project had all its leases filled within about 12 hours of taking applications.
“I think I’ll have this project filled up in about 11 hours,” said Krsnich, who said he at one point had a waiting list of about 100 for the Poehler project.
If the new project does get tax credits — and I’m not sure it will move forward if it doesn’t — the apartments will be required to be rent-controlled for at least 30 years. I’m not sure exactly which tax credit program the project will apply for, but most of them work in such a way that rents must be deemed affordable for households earning 60 percent or less of the local median income.
If you are not familiar with how the tax credit program works, projects like this one are awarded tax credits that they then can sell to investors who want to reduce their tax liabilities. The state’s Web site estimates that developers currently are receiving about 77 cents on the dollar for each $1 worth of tax credits.
Developers use the money from the sale of the tax credits to invest in their projects, which reduces the amount of debt they have to take out and makes it feasible to rent apartments at below market-rate rents.
I believe the state has about $60 million in tax credits available to award this year. It looks like winners will be announced in May.