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East Lawrence’s Sunrise Garden Center set to close doors; Lawrence home building up nearly 30 percent for year

The sun is setting on the longtime East Lawrence business Sunrise Garden Center.

Owner Greg McDonald told me that the business' last day of operation is planned to be Christmas Eve. As we reported in June, McDonald put the business and its 3.5 acres at 15th and New York streets up for sale.

A buyer hasn't yet been found for the site, but McDonald said having a business up for sale and trying to continue to operate it is difficult, especially for a garden center that must start growing some of its inventory well before it is ready for sale.

McDonald said he knows one rumor that is floating around town is that the corner property will be converted into an apartment complex. He said that's not in the plans.

"This is a single family area," McDonald said. "I don't think that will be happening."

McDonald has owned the business for the past 14 years, but the location has served as a nursery since the 1920s, he said. Longtime florist Jim Owens operated it for many years, and early on it served as the nursery that supplied flowers to local shops, long before flowers were routinely flown or trucked in from other locations. (The business also has a long history as Pence's Garden Center.)

McDonald said he still thinks the best use for the property is as a greenhouse. He said if a new owner doesn't want to operate it as a retail center, the size of the greenhouse — there is about a football field under glass — makes it viable for other types of growing operations.

"I think it could make a very good incubator location for local, urban farmers," McDonald said. "I think it would work well for somebody who wanted to gain contracts growing local produce for area restaurants and markets. But I haven't had that person walk through the door yet."

Veteran commercial real estate agent Doug Brown of McGrew Commercial Real Estate is marketing the property. McDonald said the asking price has been reduced to $725,000.

McDonald said he's selling the business because he wants more time to pursue other interests. The business employs anywhere from about nine to 24 people, depending on the season. McDonald said there are mixed emotions about the decision to close.

"If I had a quarter for every person who told me they were sad that we were closing, it would be enough to make a mortgage payment," McDonald said.

In other news and notes from around town:

• A business on the upswing in Lawrence is homebuilding. While it is still not booming, the latest report from City Hall continues to show it is rebounding.

Lawrence builders pulled permits for 20 new homes in November, making it the second busiest month of the year for single-family construction.

For the year, Lawrence builders have been issued permits for 156 single family or duplex units. That's up nearly 29 percent from the same period a year ago. The 156 total is the highest in at least the last five years.

The really big numbers in the Lawrence construction world, however, have come on the commercial and apartment side of the industry. The city has issued permits for 374 new apartment units, also a five-year high. Many of those apartment projects have run in the tens of millions of dollars, which has helped push the total value of construction projects in the city to a new five-year high as well. The city has issued permits for $163.3 million worth of projects thus far in 2013. That's up 77 percent from the same period a year ago. It also well surpasses the previous five-year high of $108.5 million, which was set in 2011.

As a reminder, some of the big projects of the past year have included about $41 million at Rock Chalk Park and the city's recreation center, $13.8 million for a downtown hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire, $13 million for apartments near Sixth and Congressional Drive, and $10 million for the expansion of the Lawrence Public Library.

• I'm going to have to fire my agent. (Actually, I'm going to have to find an agent, so I can then fire him. But you get the point.) Apparently a production company was in Lawrence earlier this year to shoot a pilot episode for a new television series. And somehow I didn't receive a casting call. Well, now there is word that the program has been picked up by MTV, and the Lawrence episode will air sometime in March 2014.

Patti McCormick, a former Los Angeles television producer who now is a Lawrence marketing executive, is my source on this. She said she helped the production company find a filming location in Lawrence this summer. The spot ended up being at the private residence of Thomas and Dru Fritzel. The production company was in search of a gazebo area to shoot, but all the gazebos in city parks were reserved on the day of the shoot, so the Fritzels provided an area that worked.

McCormick said the crew also spent quite a bit of time taking shots of downtown Lawrence to work into the pilot episode. Other details about the show — I don't know if it is a reality program, drama, comedy or what — haven't been released. But McCormick said the production company told her the pilot episode includes several shots of Lawrence and that the city looks "amazing." I'll keep an ear open for more details as the air date gets closer.

• I will be spending the next week or so preparing for my close up. In other words, Town Talk will be on hiatus for a few days. It will appear again after the New Year. Thank you all for your readership and tips over the past year. Best wishes to all of you for a safe and happy holiday season.

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    Longtime owner of East Lawrence’s Sunrise Garden Center places business and property up for sale

    If there is one thing I know about gardening, it is that change is inevitable. For instance, I’ve observed that plants in my yard are green for about a week and then brown for much longer.

    Well, change is in store for Sunrise Garden Center, the popular nursery and landscaping center at 15th and New York streets. But we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see exactly what the changes mean.

    Longtime Sunrise owner Greg McDonald confirmed that he is retiring from the business and has placed the nearly three-acre property up for sale.

    McDonald plans to keep the business open until he finds a buyer for the property and he hopes that the eventual buyer will want to keep the garden and nursery business open. But there are no guarantees on that.

    “I think it can be very successful doing what it does today, but I think there are a lot of possibilities for people who have new ideas,” said McDonald.

    The centerpiece of the property is a large greenhouse that McDonald said is about the size of a football field under glass. That’s enough space that if someone wanted to do some truck farming or shift the business over to more a specialty wholesale operation, it could do so, McDonald said.

    Veteran commercial real estate broker Doug Brown of Lawrence’s McGrew Commercial is listing the property, and plans to market it to both retail and wholesale interests. But Brown said he plans to focus on marketing the property to people who want to use the greenhouse as a greenhouse in some way, shape or form. In other words, the plan isn’t to completely redevelop the site.

    “We think that is the way to go with the success the business has had over the years,” Brown said. “It would be an attractive business for somebody to get into. It is a good business for Lawrence because it certainly has the green factor.”

    As for McDonald, he has owned the business for the last 14 years, and he is ready to have more time to spend on other pursuits. But he said business at the garden center remains strong and that gardening remains very popular in the Lawrence area.

    “This Mother’s Day was probably one of the best weekends we have ever had, and I know Memorial Day was the best Memorial Day weekend we’ve ever had,” McDonald said. “There are just so many people who enjoy doing things with the products that we sell.”

    My neighbor tells me that some people even enjoy watering their plant products after they buy them. She reminds me of that frequently, for some reason.

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