You know what they say about a picture: It probably will get you fired if it ends up on Facebook. (Wait, that's not the saying.) Regardless, take a look at these pictures below, and you'll start to get a sense of just how big of a change is proposed for the area across from KU's Memorial Stadium.
As we've reported several times, plans have been filed for a new five-story apartment and retail building at 1101 Indiana St., which currently is the home of the Berkeley Flats Apartments complex. Plans call for about 175 apartment units and about 11,000 square feet of retail development.
As we briefly reported last night, city commissioners unanimously approved the rezoning and preliminary development plan for the project. As part of that discussion, commissioners were shown several renderings that give you an idea of just how big of a change to the streetscape is on the way.
"The building design is reminiscent of a downtown," said Jim Heffernan, a leader with the Chicago-based student housing firm HERE LLC. "We think it will look similar to what a downtown in the 1950s would look like."
But as the pictures show, there will be a few amenities that weren't common in the 1950s. Plans call for not only a rooftop pool, but also an entire rooftop garden. The project proposes to have about 58,000 square feet of open and green space, including the rooftop garden and two interior courtyards.
Heffernan told commissioners the amenities are part of a plan to tap into a new market for student housing.
"Lawrence does not really have what we would consider A-plus student housing," Heffernan said. "We would be the first to the market, and we think this location is perfect for it. Part of bringing the best and the brightest to a university is having world-class housing, and this will bring that to the university."
In addition to the courtyards and rooftop gardens, the project will feature a 592-space, underground, automated parking garage system that will eliminate the need for residents to enter a parking garage to retrieve their vehicles. An automated system of lifts and tracks parks and retrieves the vehicles while residents wait in a secured lobby.
The project also will feature an extensive security system, live-work spaces, and retail space that is connected to the building. Plans call for retail along both Mississippi and Indiana streets.
Now that the zoning has been approved, Heffernan said his company will start arranging financing for the project. The company has had luck in finding financing for at least one other similar project. Work is underway on a 26-story student housing project near the University of Illinois, Heffernan said.
He said the company hopes to begin construction by the end of this year. The project is expected to take about 18 months to build. As we've previously reported, though, commissioners are likely to receive a request for financial incentives for the project. Heffernan confirmed that the company is likely to file an application with the city in the next few weeks. He said a 95 percent property tax rebate through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act is a possibility, but the company was still reviewing its options. Commissioners, of course, will have to approve any type of incentive package.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The big apartment project has a twist to it that has been played out many times in sitcoms over the decades: Giant project builds around a single house. If you have ever studied the current Berkeley Flats apartment complex, you may have noticed that the apartment complex has built up around an old single family home at 1115 Indiana St.
The property's owner, Georgia Bell, has lived in the house for more than 60 years. She didn't sell the property when Berkeley Flats came knocking decades ago, and, thus far, she hasn't sold to the Chicago-based company behind this latest proposal.
According to her son, Norman Bell, Georgia is 91 years old. For years there has been an apparently unwritten understanding that she could drive through the parking lot of Berkeley Flats to access the back door of her home. But with the new development, there will be no parking lot to drive through. It will be covered by a multistory building. City officials have searched, but there is no easement on file for the property. That leaves Bell's only access to the property off Indiana Street. Because of the steep slope, there is a set of stairs that leads from the street to her house. Norman said he did not think his mother could navigate those stairs.
That obviously creates a bad situation, and city commissioners at their meeting last night expressed a lot of concern for Ms. Bell.
"She has the right to be there and we wouldn't try to do anything to make her move," City Commissioner Bob Schumm said. "But I'm afraid she is not going to be very happy there."
Heffernan said his company very much would like to purchase the property, and has had multiple discussions with Ms. Bell. He even took the unusual step of telling commissioners how much the company has offered Ms. Bell for the property: $600,000. The property currently is appraised for taxation purposes at about $93,000.
But Heffernan also told commissioners the property is becoming less valuable to the company by the day. Once construction begins, it will be too late to change any design plans, and thus the only use for the property would be as open space.
Norman Bell attended last night's meeting and told commissioners he is advising his mother to get an attorney and sell the property. But he also noted that she is "pretty independent." The city manager, the city's planning director and other city officials have all had conversations with Ms. Bell to make sure she understands the scale of the proposed project and the amount of disruption it is likely to cause to her residence. But City Manager David Corliss said the city is committed to protecting her rights under the law, if she decides to stay.
City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer, though, seemed to say what was on a lot of people's minds when he urged Norman to really get his mother to consider the company's purchase officer.
"She is getting a heck of a deal at $600,000," Farmer said. "I don't think the company is trying to screw her over at all."
To that, Norman said he agreed. We'll see how it plays itself out.
Large apartment building near KU’s Memorial Stadium, family fun center in West Lawrence face key votes tonight
From a big apartment building to miniature golf, the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission is set to provide recommendations tonight on several million dollars worth of proposed development.
Here's a look:
• As we reported in December, plans have been filed for a five-story apartment building and retail development at 1101 Indiana St., which is basically across the street from KU's Memorial Stadium.
Well, the project is facing its first key review tonight, and thus far the early indications are that there is smooth sailing ahead for the project, which is being proposed by a Chicago-based student housing developer.
The city's planning staff is recommending approval of the project. If it comes to be, KU football fans will notice a major new addition to the stadium area by 2016. The project will include space for at least one, but possibly more restaurants or retail shops on the ground floor of the building. The plans call for about 11,000 square feet of retail or restaurant uses.
But the bulk of the project is driven by apartments — a lot of apartments in a relatively small space. The development is proposing 171 to 176 apartment units, depending on the mix of two-bedroom or four-bedroom units. Either way, the development would have 592 bedrooms. The entire project is proposed to sit on just 2.39 acres. That's about 74 dwelling units per acre, which is a lot more than the 24 to 32 units per acre seen in many traditional apartment developments in Lawrence. But unlike most other apartment buildings in Lawrence, this one will be about 80 feet tall, which allows you to create more density per acre. For years, city officials have said more density is needed in projects in order to cut down on the amount of urban sprawl in the community.
This project will test that notion. The development group, Chicago-based HERE, LLC, is asking for a bonus density that city commissioners have the discretion to grant as part of the relatively new mixed-use zoning district. Commissioners can allow a 25 percent increase in density over and above the normal maximum, if commissioners determine "such an increase is warranted to support the public benefit likely to result from the proposed development."
City commissioners will have to decide what that nebulous phrase means, but the project definitely will have a unique element to it that could end up being a benefit for the cramped Oread neighborhood. It will be the first development in the city to use an "automated, robotic parking garage system." The 592-space parking garage would be on three levels and partially underground.
The system involves the motorist pulling into a large elevator-like box and exiting the vehicle. The garage then uses an elevator system to place the vehicle on the appropriate floor, and a lift-and-track system that moves the vehicle to the right space.
A representative with the development group told me in December that the garage will use about 40 percent less space than a traditional parking garage because it doesn't have to use entrance and exit ramps.
It will be interesting to see how the project is received by the commission tonight. Thus far, I haven't heard of any real opposition to the large development from the Oread neighborhood. That, of course, can change, but it probably is worth noting the development would be replacing a fairly old apartment complex, Berkeley Flats, that is in need of some attention.
If this project happens, it could be a real game-changer for Mississippi Street, and the northern gateway into the university. Look at the map below to see exactly where this project would be. Then look at some of the properties on either side of it. A lot of them are starting to show some age. If this project happens, how much redevelopment pressure will it create on the entire area?
Maybe that will be the big question over the next few years: What is going to improve first: the KU football team or the area next to its stadium?
• As we reported in December, plans for a family fun center — think minigolf, batting cages and possibly go-karts — have been filed for vacant ground near the corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive. Well, that project also faces its first key vote tonight. We'll see how that goes, but sometimes at Lawrence City Hall, our idea of fun is to fight over how vacant ground that is next to a neighborhood should be developed. There are some indications that is the type of situation that is brewing. All this may still get worked out, but the Wimbledon Terrace Townhomes Association, which is across Clinton Parkway from the project, has sent a letter to city officials to "strongly object" to the proposed fun center.
Among the reasons cited in the letter are bright lights, increased traffic and the fact that the project — which, I remind you, proposes go-karts, batting cages, minigolf, an arcade and other such games — is located just a few blocks from four schools in the area. (Bishop Seabury, Raintree Montessori, Sunflower elementary and Southwest Middle School, if you are scoring along at home.)
The letter notes there may be "hundreds of little children who might be intimidated by the large numbers of teenagers and young adults who would frequent the project." The letters suggests it would be more appropriate for the center to be built in a more commercial area or on the edge of the city, "such as was done for the youth soccer complex south of town and the new recreation center to the west."
The project, however, has received a recommendation for approval from the city's planning staff. One of the reasons cited is because it would create an amenity that residents of the neighborhood could walk to. It is isn't clear how neighbors on the south side of Clinton Parkway feel about the project though. They have long fought to stop the vacant ground from housing more apartments. This project would accomplish that.
Regardless, a few more details are available about the project than when first reported in December. They include:
— The southeast corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness is planned to become the site of a dining establishment with a drive-thru lane. The zoning that is being asked for would allow for a fast-food restaurant, but planners don't think a high-volume fast-food restaurant would fit in well with the adjacent neighborhoods. The architect for the project, Lawrence-based Paul Werner architects, also has said the site isn't the type to attract interest from a fast-food restaurant anyway. Instead, the development group is more interested in a coffee shop with a drive-thru or some other similar use. A tenant, however, hasn't been found. It will be interesting to see if planning commissioners come up with some way to zone the property so that a coffee shop could be allowed, for instance, but a fast-food restaurant could not.
— The first phase of the family fun center development would include a two-story club house that would have private party rooms, arcade and snack area on the ground floor. The second floor would include a bar that serves 3.2 beer and has a NASCAR driving experience arcade and miniature bowling.
— Also in the first phase is an 18-hole, outdoor miniature golf course, six batting cages, a patio area and a children's "tot lot" play area.
— A second phase of the development is proposed to have a 33,000 square-foot, outdoor go-kart track. The carts are proposed to be electric, which the manufacturer says produces about as much noise as an automobile traveling 20 to 30 miles per hour down a street. No information has been provided on when the second phase of the development may be built.
— Hours of operation are proposed for 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 11 a.m. to midnight on Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturday; and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday. City planners are recommending that outdoor lighting be shut off by 10:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and by 11:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
Planning commissioners meet at 6:30 tonight at City Hall.
More LJWorld City Coverage
The phrase “warm up the bus” may become a frequent one at Kansas University’s Memorial Stadium, and it has nothing to do with the improving — or declining — fortunes of the KU football team.
A new City Hall report lists a site on the grounds of Memorial Stadium as a leading contender to house a multmillion dollar transit center.
The report says a site just northeast of the stadium — where the shot put and discus rings are now — may be the best location to build a nearly $3 million transit center that would serve both the city and KU’s public transit buses.
As currently envisioned, the transit center would hold a specially-designed parking lot to accommodate upwards of 10 buses. It also would include a small building with public restrooms and a break room for bus drivers.
The option would involve relocating a portion of Fambrough Drive so that it no longer is part of an offset intersection where it connects with Mississippi Street. The portion of Illinois Street that runs onto the stadium property also would be relocated.
As for the discus, shot put and javelin areas, they would be relocated to the Rock Chalk Park complex in northwest Lawrence, where a state-of-the-art track and field stadium is being constructed.
The project is expected to cost about $2.8 million, including about an extra $100,000 per year in operational costs required to reroute the buses to the center.
The consulting firm Olsson Associates recommends that the city also seriously consider two other sites: 2029 Becker Drive, which is the KU Park and Ride Lot on West Campus; and 925 Iowa, which is part of the parking system behind The Merc grocery store at Ninth and Iowa.
The site at the stadium, however, has the lowest costs of the three. The Park and Ride Lot has an estimated $3.7 million price tag, including an annual additional operational expense of about $535,000 to route the buses through the center. The Ninth and Iowa location has a price tag of $3.2 million, including an extra $366,000 of annual operational expenses.
It will be interesting to think through how large numbers of buses will impact the thousands of people who show up on KU game days to tailgate around Memorial Stadium. There are already a large number of buses that arrive at the stadium on game day as part of the shuttle system the city operates from downtown to the stadium. But those buses are confined to parking spaces on Mississippi Street.
These buses — which I assume would be in addition the shuttle buses — would be on the stadium grounds themselves. And, a very key point here, they would be on a portion of the grounds that currently is prime tailgating space.
We may be setting the stage to find out how important tailgating is to the KU game day experience. Let’s face it, the last couple of years, it has been more important than the games. (If the city needs a consultant to advise it on KU tailgating matters, I certainly could form a corporation, so to speak. Of course, any good study will require a large quantity of a certain beverage, several pounds of prime beef, and probably a mobile flat screen television just to be thorough.)
City commissioners will get their first look at the study at their 6:35 p.m. meeting Tuesday at City Hall.
If talk of this issue has left you confused, don’t feel bad. (The thought of a mobile, flat-screen television leaves me discombobulated too.) No, more than likely it is that you thought this issue already was decided. Transit center talk has been in the news a lot lately, with commissioners just last week agreeing to locate a transit hub in the 700 block of Vermont Street. What’s important to remember about that hub, however, is it designed to be temporary.
The city soon will have to move its transit hub from Ninth and New Hampshire streets, once construction work begins on the new hotel at that intersection. It now has been decided that the 700 block of Vermont Street — across from the library project — will be the temporary location.
But city officials all along have said they need to find a better permanent home for the transit hub. It had become increasingly obvious that finding one in downtown may be difficult.
It will be interesting, however, to see how much the city’s bus system routes must change once the main hub is no longer located downtown. It's possible that some routes that come downtown today may not in the future. The report doesn’t provide details about route changes, but it assumes “service to downtown would continue where feasible for specific routes.” It also notes that the city may be able to reduce some of the estimated operating expenses, if it chooses to rethink the number of buses that it sends through downtown.
It all may create quite the discussion. In the meantime, I think I’ll do a little “professional development” for my career in tailgate consulting.