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British restaurant opens on south Massachusetts Street; west Lawrence retirement center plans expansion

Get ready for a British invasion at Lawrence’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post. No, that guy behind the bar really isn’t Ringo, and that’s not a cricket game that has broken out near the jukebox. But indeed you now can get some British fare at the VFW. The former downtown restaurant Queen Lizzy’s has reopened in the VFW post at 1801 Massachusetts St.

“The menu is going to be very similar to what we had downtown, but we’ve also added some American bar food as well,” said Matt Poulton, owner of Queen Lizzy’s.

Poulton said signature dishes will include fish and chips, Shepherd’s Pie and bangers and mash, which I think is a dish of sausage and mashed potatoes. (Although there’s also a chance it may just be a cricket term and us dumb blokes have mistakenly been ordering it for years. However, I would highly suggest the googly or the dibbly dobbly for dessert.) Also on the menu will be American fare such as pork chops, hamburgers, nachos and other bar food.

Poulton closed his downtown restaurant at 125 E. 10th St. in late 2012 after operating it for about 15 months. Since then, the Queen Lizzy’s name largely has been staying active in the catering business. But Poulton said he became intrigued by the idea of using space in the VFW building, which used to house Bambino’s restaurant.

“The space has a fantastic kitchen and a dining room, but the VFW had never really thought about opening a restaurant,” Poulton said.

The arrangement is unusual because the VFW is a private club. But Poulton said any member of the public can come into the club to dine. If you want to drink alcohol, however, you’ll need to have a membership to the club. But Poulton said auxiliary memberships are available to the VFW, even if you are not a veteran.

The restaurant opened last week.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Keep your eyes open for a large new development in the world of Lawrence retirement housing. The folks at Pioneer Ridge have filed plans to develop 76 units of independent living apartments as part of their complex at 4851 Harvard Road.

Debbie Walker, regional director of independent living for Pioneer Ridge’s parent company, said work is expected to begin in late October, and the units likely will be ready by late 2015. The project will be on vacant ground that has frontage along Wakarusa Drive and is just south of Pioneer Ridge’s main building. The apartments will be a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. They will be the first independent living units for Pioneer Ridge, which currently has about 60 assisted living units and multiple beds in a full health care unit.

The independent living units will allow residents to take advantage of some of the services offered at the main facility at Pioneer Ridge, such as meal plans, Walker said.

“People will have a full amenity package when they move in, and they can add additional amenities that they want or need,” Walker said.

The project continues a trend of trying to attract more retirees and seniors to the Lawrence community. Several of the existing retirement centers in Lawrence have added units or undergone renovations, and Meadowlark Estates built 124 living units for people 55 and older at Sixth and Folks Road in 2011. More recently, officials with Americare had plans approved for a 46-bed assisted living facility at Peterson Road and Monterey Way. Walker said demand for retirement living in Lawrence is significant.

“We have had a lot of people ask us for independent living options,” Walker said. “We have always felt like there is a very strong interest in people moving back to Lawrence. Plus there are a lot of professionals who live in Lawrence and want to move their parents here to be closer to them.”

• If you are trying to follow the debate about the proposed $28 million police headquarters facility, you may want to check your calendars. The city has changed the location of a forum it is hosting at 7 p.m. on Oct. 16. The new location is the auditorium of Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, 1400 Massachusetts St.

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A new Kansas River trail and city nature area near Burcham Park may be in the works

Burcham Park and the area around it will be one to keep an eye on in the near future.

As we've previously reported, the city's utilities department has a pair of multimillion dollar projects that will go through the park, near Second and Indiana streets close to the Kansas River. The first project is a new water intake pipe to feed the nearby Kaw Water Treatment plant with more river water. The second project is a new water line that will cross the Kansas River and provide a second supply of water to the North Lawrence area.

Work on both of those projects is expected to start by the end of the year, and will cause portions of the park to be closed, in some cases into next summer. In particular, Parks and Recreation officials soon will remove the playground equipment from the park to accommodate construction. But my understanding is that officials will look for a new area in the park to eventually replace the equipment.

Longer term, development in the area could get more interesting. If you remember, the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center has purchased the former VFW property that is adjacent to Burcham Park. That property includes a five- to six-acre pond that is a nice piece of tranquility, but is on private property and difficult to access.

Parks and Recreation leaders, however, have confirmed that Bert Nash officials and leaders of the Outside for a Better Inside group have approached the city about donating the pond to the city for future use as a park. (Bert Nash would keep the rest of the property to use for a possible expansion of facilities in the future.)

The Outside for a Better Inside Group — led by local real estate executive John McGrew — would like to see a trail developed around the pond to promote outdoor activity.

Parks and Recreation officials told me they have an interest in the project, but at the moment, they have more interest than money. But it is the type of project that could fare well in grant competitions. Mark Hecker, assistant director with Parks and Recreation, said the city would like to try to win a couple of grants. That would allow for a trail to be built around the pond, and also for an existing trail between Burcham Park and Constant Park to be significantly improved.

For those of you who slept through the class on Lawrence park names, Constant Park is the largely unimproved park near Sixth and Tennessee streets along the Kansas River. Burcham and Constant are connected by a dirt trail that runs through the woods and along the Kansas River. A new trail could be a regular, improved, concrete trail. I guess since it would be along the river, we could promote it as a riverwalk, if we so desired.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, the project does have several hurdles to clear. When I checked, there still weren't cost estimates for the project. Plus, city commissioners still haven't signed off on the concept, and importantly, the city would have to compete with other projects to win grant money.

"It is a really cool area, if you can get into it," Hecker said "It is one of those projects that may never happen, or it may start to gain some momentum real soon."

•••

If I've whetted your appetite to talk about parks in Lawrence, mark your calendars for 2 p.m. on Sunday. A group of people will gather at Sesquicentennial Point to socialize and talk about the future of the Point. What's that? Where is the Point? Some of you really did sleep through the class on Lawrence parks. Sesquicentennial Point is below the Clinton Lake Dam. Its entrance is off of Eeast 902 Road, across the street from the city's off-leash dog park.

The area is a beautiful spot on a high piece of ground, but it is largely unimproved except for a stone walkway that commemorates various families, businesses and organizations that played a role in the city's first 150 years. Champions of the point, led by longtime teacher and historian Clenece Hills, always are looking or more groups to donated funds to complete that walkway. Long-term plans have called for an amphitheater at the site.

That project still seems a good distance away. Parks and recreation officials told me their view continues to be that future development at the point will be difficult to do until more infrastructure is in place. That means, water, sewer, and better road access.

"I've also heard some people question if we are going to have an amphitheater whether there is a better location for it in town, like perhaps on the Lied Center property," said Ernie Shaw, the city's leader of the parks and recreation department. "If we get serious about an amphitheater, this is just one location to consider."

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    I-70 Business Center has new owners; VFW purchases south Massachusetts Street properties; Habitat for Humanity completes land deal

    Spring has brought some new activity to the commercial real estate market, according to the lastest report of land transfers from the Douglas County Courthouse. So, let’s get right into some of the more notable deals.

    • The I-70 Business Center in North Lawrence — formerly known as the Tanger Outlet Mall — has new ownership. Lawrence Gateway Investors LLC has purchased the property from I-70 Business Center LLC. I-70 Business Center LLC was a group led by several local businessmen, including contractor Bo Harris, retired insurance executive Bob Johnson and North Lawrence commercial property owner Samih Staitieh.

    Lawrence Gateway Investors — the new ownership group — is a recently formed company, so documents aren’t yet on file with the state showing the members of that company. But the resident agent for the company is Thomas Boyd, who is a noted real estate agent and developer with the Wichita-based Walter Morris Companies.

    The former mall property — which is at the North Lawrence interchange on the Kansas Turnpike — long ago was converted from a retail center to a business center.

    The I-70 Business Center group has had good success in finding tenants for the property. For many years the property was largely vacant, but that is no longer the case. The center has three anchor tenants: the corporate headquarters of Protection One security; a call center operated by Home Oxygen 2-U; and the Rezolve Group, a company that provides services for the student loan industry.

    “It has been a good property to own,” Johnson told me. “I think it is a better property now than it has ever been. I think the new group bought it because they can see the future in it.”

    Johnson confirmed to me that none of the members of the I-70 Business Center LLC was part of the new ownership group, but he said he wasn’t familiar with the principals in the new group. I’ve reached out to Boyd, the Wichita real estate agent, and will report back if I hear anything interesting.

    • It looks like the Lawrence VFW Post has shifted gears on its plans for a new facility. The Alford-Clarke Post #852 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars has purchased 1741 and 1801 Massachusetts St. from Bruce Banning. That’s the former location for Bambinos Italian Restaurant and the current location for Beat the Bookstore.

    The purchase comes after the VFW had filed plans with City Hall to build a new club near 27th and Haskell in eastern Lawrence. But as we reported a couple of months ago, VFW leaders said they also were looking at other locations. Now we know what other location they were looking at.

    The group has filed a site plan to use the former Bambinos building for its clubhouse. It hasn’t filed any plans for the Beat the Bookstore building. I’ve got a call in the VFW post, but haven’t yet heard back. A member of the VFW told me the plan that has been described to members involves using the former Bambinos property as the bar and club for the facility, and the Beat the Bookstore property would continue to be leased to the bookstore or other businesses in the future to generate revenue for the VFW. I’ll let you know if a VFW provides me new information.

    • Lawrence’s Habitat for Humanity has made a purchase that gives the nonprofit a multi-year supply of housing lots in eastern Lawrence. Habitat for Humanity purchased nine vacant lots from Steven George near 17th and Lindenwood. Lawrence’s Habitat for Humanity has been building about three to four homes per year, said Lindsey Slater, community outreach coordinator for the organization. Habitat was looking for more property, in part, because it has only two available lots left in the Comfort Neighborhood in North Lawrence.

    Slater said George donated a portion of each lot to Habitat in order to help make the purchase financially feasible for the organization. Habitat builds affordable housing for families that meet certain income guidelines and who are willing to invest “sweat equity” by helping build the home and others for Habitat.

    “We’re really targeting hardworking families that wouldn’t be able to qualify for a traditional home loan otherwise,” Slater said.

    • To see a complete list of the land transfers for the week ending April 8, click here.

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