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Town Talk: City may locate police headquarters in new industrial park

I pity the poor guy who occasionally speeds a bit to get to work on time at the East Hills Business Park. There's a chance that he may not have to avoid just a single patrol car, but rather the whole Lawrence police force. There are new signs that the city's proposed police headquarters building may go on industrial land adjacent to East Hills Business Park.

City Hall officials have released a report updating their search for property to house the potentially 100,000-square-foot police headquarters building. A site at the city's newest industrial park, VenturePark, is getting a serious look. For those of you not up on your industrial park names, VenturePark is the former Farmland Industries site, which is just west of East Hills Business Park.

The city is evaluating anywhere from two to five lots that are basically at the northwest corner of 23rd and O'Connell. The city hasn't decided to move forward with the site, but the recent report said "One site that may be most favorable is on land already owned by the city at VenturePark." That may be what the folks in the literary business call foreshadowing. (Calm down, English majors. That was not your cue to start a lecture on To Kill a Mockingbird.)

The city is looking for a site of at least 13 acres. That would require at least two lots in VenturePark to be taken out of circulation for industrial purposes. The park, however, still would have about 15 other lots that could serve a variety of business and industrial users.

It will be interesting to see if the city commissioners pull the trigger on the site. It would save the city potentially $1 million or more on land acquisition costs. The site also is across the street from the Douglas County Jail, has easy access to not only 23rd Street, but soon to the South Lawrence Trafficway. It is also close to the Humane Society, which will make it handy for police department's animal control division.

City officials will have to consider whether having a police station in an industrial park would sour any potential industrial tenants. In some cases it may be a benefit. Some businesses may like the knowing that there is 24/7 police presence just down the street.

Commissioners also have other options, including another city owned site. The report says the 29-acres of city-owned property at Overland Drive and Wakarusa Drive are being evaluated. The property is basically behind the Wal-Mart, and once was considered as a potential site for a city recreation center.

If you remember, the city also received seven proposals from local landowners earlier this year. City staff is recommending a majority of those proposals be rejected for reasons ranging from size problems, geography problems or access issues. But staff members are recommending three of the sites receive further consideration. They are:

• Up to 50 acres along the southern edge of 31st Street between Ousdahl and Louisiana. The property would be adjacent to the South Lawrence Trafficway. Staff is recommending the site remaining in the running, but noted there could be potential floodplain concerns.

• Two sites in the Fairfield Farms commercial development near 23rd and O'Connell Road also are receiving further review. Both sites are around 15 acres and generally are near the area where Tractor Supply is located. Both sites have good access to 23rd Street and the future South Lawrence Trafficway, and are near the Douglas County Jail.

• About 14 acres along Franklin Road in what is known as the Mt. Blue Addition. The property is near the Douglas County Jail. Staff is recommending this site receive further study, as a potential alternative to the Fairfield Farms site.

The city report also said there has been some interest shown in the vacant property that is just east of the Hallmark Cards plant and adjacent to the administration building. But that property, which is along the Kansas Turnpike, is 47 acres, and thus far the property is only being offered as a single piece. The report notes the city may have interest in that property if a smaller tract could be purchased.

The city also acknowledged that early in the process it unsuccessfully tried to strike a deal with Kansas University Endowment for a piece of well-situated West Lawrence property. The city was interested in vacant property at the southeast corner of Kasold Drive and Bob Billings Parkway. They city and the university have a history of striking some deals, including the use of university property to house Fire Station No. 5 near 19th and Iowa streets. More recently, the city agreed to a deal to pay for substantially all the needed infrastructure for the Rock Chalk Park sports complex that will be primarily used by KU. But the city was notified that the university's "long-term plans for the property made it unwise to commit to a non-university related use at this time."

There's been no timeline announced for how quickly the city may make a decision on a site for the police headquarters, but the issue has picked up considerable momentum in the last few weeks. Commissioners will receive the report at their Tuesday evening meeting, so it is conceivable they may direct staff to begin focusing on a particular site.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Earlier this week, we reported on an expansion project at API Foils in the East Hills Business Park. Well, I now have more details, and it appears the project could produce five to 15 new jobs at the manufacturer in the near term.

Currently, API's Lawrence operations have about 70 jobs, with a mix of administrative and production positions. The new jobs largely would be production jobs, Brad Mueller, president of API Foils, told me.

Mueller said the expansion project — which already has begun construction — is designed to improve the capacity and quality of foils produced at the plant. The foils are used in a variety of consumer packaging applications, ranging from greetings cards to candy to health care products.

The expansion product is expected to cost $4 million and increase the plant's production capacity by about 25 percent, Mueller said.

"Ultimately, we have found some customers that we can grow with," said Mueller. "It is a service-oriented business, and we have been blessed to form some good relationships."

Mueller said he expects the expansion project to be completed by mid-July. He said the company could start hiring in the fourth quarter or in early 2015.

• Get ready for a longterm traffic disruption on 31st Street. The Kansas Department of Transportation has announced that the portion of 31st Street between Louisiana Street and a point just a bit east of Ousdahl will close on Tuesday. The road is expected to be closed through the summer of 2015.

As previously reported, the closing is part of the work on the South Lawrence Trafficway. Eventually — perhaps in July — the portion of 31st Street between Haskell and Louisiana also will be closed for a long period.

This most recent closing also means that motorists won't be able to cross 31st Street at Louisiana. There is one small business area south of 31st Street that will be impacted by the closure. Visitors to the area — which includes Steve's Place, a meeting and reception hall — will need to take a series of county roads to access the business.

According to a representative of the business, motorists will need to travel south on Iowa Street to North 1100 Road, then travel east on North 1100 to East 1400 Road, then travel north on North 1400 Road to the business.

Reply 7 comments from Lawrence Morgan Leslie Swearingen Merrill Curtis Lange Fred Mion Sarah Humbert Floyd Craig

City receives just one proposal to redevelop dilapidated East Lawrence property; rumblings of Buffalo Wild Wings, barbecue and a downtown diner

The Lawrence development community evidently hasn't fallen in love with Rhody Delahunty.

If you remember, city commissioners recently went through the unusual process of taking the house and real estate at 1106 Rhode Island St. by eminent domain. As part of the eminent domain process, the city paid $114,500 for the dilapidated and vacant house and barn that sit just east of the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center in downtown.

Commissioners bought the house, in part, because it is in a historic district, and the home itself is an old one. It dates back to the early 1870s, and the site was used by colorful Irishman Rhody Delahunty as the headquarters for his thriving dray wagon business.

Last month, commissioners sent out an RFP saying they wanted to receive proposals on how to redevelop the property, with the caveat that the old structures wouldn't be demolished. City staff members now report that the city received just one proposal.

But as my wife says as she sorts through her stack of credit cards at the checkout line: It just takes one good one. Now, city officials will have to determine whether the lone proposal is a good one.

It comes from longtime Lawrence architect and historic preservationist Stan Hernly's company Hernly Associates. As expected, the proposal involves financial assistance from the city to redevelop the property. First, Hernly proposes to buy the property for 90,000, which is less than what the city paid for it. Hernly says the city paid a price based on what the land was worth in a clear condition, but the condition of the house and barn actually make the property less valuable.

Hernly's group also is seeking essentially a 90 percent, 10-year property tax rebate on the completed project. The group also is seeking $26,100 in development grants to help fund what is expected to be about a $900,000 rehabilitation project.

As for what the project will include:

— The old house would be converted into a three-bedroom, two-bath rental house.

— A new one-bedroom, one-bath apartment would be built above the garage.

— The existing warehouse/barn would be converted into 2,170 square feet of office space. According to the proposal submitted to City Hall, Hernly plans to move his architectural business into the office space.

The proposal goes into detail about how the property will be greatly improved, noting everything from the major structural improvements that will have to be undertaken to the landscaping and site improvements that will clean up what has generally been viewed as a long-term eyesore.

That has been the one part of this project that most people have agreed upon: The property has been a mess, and has detracted from the neighborhood. But the city's actions to purchase the property through eminent domain have been important because it is the first time in recent memory the city has used that power to deal with a dilapidated property.

Now, it appears, purchasing the property won't be the only costs to the city. As proposed it will included taking money out of the city's coffers to complete the deal.

City commissioners have the power to order unsafe and dangerous houses to be demolished, but that option wasn't seriously considered in this case. That's because the history of the house made it likely that the city's own Historic Resources Commission would object to any proposed demolition of the property.

It will be an interesting project to watch. Let's face it, the amount of assistance being asked for isn't going to put a major dent in the city's budget. But there are certainly other old, dilapidated properties around town that the city has struggled to deal with. The more interesting question to me is whether the city has created a new strategy — one centered on the use of eminent domain — to rehabilitate old properties? And if so, what do we think of that? Is it finally a solution to deal with property owners who refuse to live up to their responsibilities, or is it an overreach by government?

Don't look at me. Sometimes I just get paid to ask the questions.

In other news and notes from around town:

• In my line of work, the celebrities I hang around with are city commissioners, and, if I'm lucky, an occasional planning commissioner. So, you can imagine how popular I become at cocktail parties when I start dropping names. But in that tradition, I'll drop a few names here. Like all good name-dropping, I'm a little light on specifics at the moment. In other words, I'll attempt to follow up in coming days on some of these.

— Buffalo Wild Wings: As we have previously reported, the restaurant is planning a new location at the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa Street. Well, there are signs that project is moving forward. The biggest sign is a bulldozer clearing the site. I still don't have a definitive answer on what this means for the downtown location for Buffalo Wild Wings. In the past, officials at the location have told me they don't know what the future holds for the downtown spot. People in the commercial real industry, however, tell me they've been told Buffalo Wild Wings is moving out of the location. It has been awhile since I've check with Buffalo Wild Wings, so I'll let you know if there is an update.

— Blockbuster: The last we reported on the vacant Blockbuster building on 23rd Street was that Wichita-based Hog Wild Pit Bar-B-Q was taking part of the building, and an unidentified mattress store was taking the other part. As far as I know, that's still the plan, and work clearly has begun on the site. I'll see what update is available from the development company.

— Pie: I've gotten word from a reliable source that a new downtown diner is coming to Massachusetts Street. It involves a partnership with an existing downtown restaurant and a pie maker extraordinaire. But I haven't yet got in touch with all parties involved, so I'm going to leave it at that until I have a chance to do so. But trust me, I will. I don't let pie go cold.

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