Signs indicate Freebirds Burrito has closed downtown Lawrence location; new plan emerges for affordable housing near 23rd and O’Connell
The free bird has perhaps decided to fly away. There's a new sign hanging from the window of the Freebirds World Burrito in downtown Lawrence that indicates the restaurant has closed.
The sign came to my attention yesterday, and I've been trying to get in touch with the restaurant's spokeswoman ever since, but with no luck. The sign apologizes for the inconvenience and reads, "Freebirds has closed indefinitely in Lawrence. Please come visit our other locations in Kansas City."
Make of that what you will. That's the thing about indefinitely. It is just not definite enough for my tastes. But assuming that the restaurant's run in Lawrence is over, it is a bit of an unexpected departure. The restaurant — which served a variety of burritos, tacos, adult beverages and the like — opened its doors in late January of 2013.
Freebirds went into a big space — the former Maurices clothing store — that had sat vacant for a long time after the clothing retailer moved to South Iowa Street. It sure looked like Freebirds spent some good money to renovate about two-thirds of the space. The other third was put up for lease, but a tenant hasn't yet been found. If Freebirds is done, then downtown Lawrence once again has one of its larger Massachusetts Street storefronts sitting vacant.
It will be interesting to watch. The space sat vacant for about three years after Maurices left downtown Lawrence in 2009. The economy was much different back then, so who knows what the prospects for the building may be now. Although I haven't heard any rumblings, I suppose it is possible Freebirds is leaving because someone has expressed interest in the entire Maurices space.
I'll keep my ears open for news on the space. In the meantime, it is probably best that we all remember the words of a famous poet — who we have forgotten the name of — who wrote: Set the bird free. If it is true love, it shall return. Or something like that.
For those of you who loved Freebirds, I'm not sure where that leaves you. I guess, watch the sky for a bird with an overstuffed burrito hanging from its beak.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The idea of Lawrence becoming home to senior citizens and retirees continues to be a strong one. An Olathe senior housing company has confirmed it is trying to put together a deal for a 90-unit senior living community near 25th Terrace and O'Connell Road in southeast Lawrence.
The proposed developer is Wheatland Investments, which has about 500 apartment units across the region, according to a letter from its managers, David and Suzanne Rhodes.
The project isn't a done deal, however. In addition to needing the necessary city approvals, it also is competing for affordable housing tax credits from the state. Without those tax credits, I would guess the project may have to go back to the drawing board. The credits would make the apartments rent controlled, and would mean that tenants would have to meet some income guidelines.
The credits also can be used to provide housing for low income individuals, but, according to the letter, Wheatland is interested in making the project exclusively for senior citizens 55-years and older. The concept plan calls for 15 buildings, each housing six garden/ranch style apartments. The project would be spread out over nine acres near the intersection.
Lawrence city commissioners at their meeting tonight will receive a request from the developers to issue Industrial Revenue Bonds, which would qualify the approximately $8 million project for a property tax abatement. But commissioners aren't being asked to approve the request tonight. Instead, they're being asked to send the request to city staff members for review and analysis.
The site is just south of of the proposed site for another affordable housing project. As we previously have reported, the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority has been working on a partnership with a group led by Lawrence businessman Bill Newsome to develop an approximately $15 million affordable housing project for working families.
But Shannon Oury, executive director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, told me this morning that project has suffered a setback. Interest rates have risen, and that has created complications for the financing of the project.
"We're in a situation of reevaluating how we make that work," Oury said.
She said the group didn't have a timeline for determining when or if that project would move forward.
More LJWorld City Coverage
Freebirds Burrito set to open Jan. 31 in downtown Lawrence; company looking for co-tenant for building
There’s a search underway for a new nesting partner. No, the search isn’t for me. (It was a long vacation, but my wife didn’t tire of me so much that she kicked me out of the nest.)
I’m talking about a different bird: Freebirds Burrito. As we reported in July, restaurant chain Freebirds World Burrito has signed a deal to locate in a portion of the former Maurices building at 739 Massachusetts St. in downtown, and now is looking for a co-tenant for the space.
We reported this summer that the restaurant was set to open by the end of October, and then Freebirds seemed to become about as grounded as the KU football team’s passing game did this fall.
Well, work is clearly underway now, and a spokeswoman with Freebirds told me the restaurant is scheduled to open near the end of January, and I’ve since seen where the company’s website is listing Jan. 31 as the store’s grand opening date.
Caitlin Noble — director of marketing for Kansas City-based FBMidwest Development, which is the franchisee for Freebirds in the Midwest — confirmed Freebirds will take about two-thirds of the former Maurices building. The other third will be left for another tenant. Noble said another tenant hasn’t yet been found. No word yet on whether Freebirds is open to another restaurant locating in the spot, or whether they will hold out for a more traditional retailer. My understanding is that Freebirds is in control of the space because it has leased the entire building and will sublease the remaining space.
For those of you who have forgotten what the heck a Freebird is, it is more than just a really long Lynyrd Skynyrd song that disc jockeys play when they need to take a bathroom break.
But it is a little funky like Skynyrd. According to the company’s website, the chain got started in 1987 by a couple of “ex-hippies” in Santa Barbara, Calif. The company then expanded into College Station, Texas, where the restaurant became a hit with Texas A&M students, which is odd since I’m almost certain the restaurant doesn’t serve eggs benedict. Benedict, as in Benedict Arnold. Famous traitor. Texas A&M and its Big 12 betrayal. (This is not good: The first column of 2013, and I’m already having to explain jokes.)
What the restaurant does serve is a large mix of burritos, tacos, nachos and other similar dishes. Freebirds promotes that it is uses hormone-free, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken, which the website says goes back to the company’s hippie roots.
Here’s another thing that may go back to the restaurant’s hippie founders: Pot brownies. I’ve asked several hippies if those were popular back in the day, and they said they couldn’t remember. I took that as a sign that they were very popular. But before you grab your tie-dye and start forming a line at Freebirds, you should know that these pot brownies are named such because they are served in a black pot. (The tie-dye would still be fun, though.)
When Freebirds opens in Lawrence, it will be the company’s second Kansas location. Its first Kansas location opened in 2012 along Metcalf Avenue in Mission. It also has restaurants in Westport and Lee’s Summit in the Kansas City area.