Plans filed for new office development in Warehouse Arts District; developer hopes to add row house project to area in 2016; update on East Lawrence bistro
It seems demand is increasing for a funky vibe at the office, but, no, that smell that’s coming from the break room fridge doesn’t qualify. Instead, I’m talking about office space in an arts-oriented district. The developer of East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District has filed plans to add more offices to the area.
A group led by Lawrence developer Tony Krsnich has filed plans to add about 10,000 square feet of new offices in the building at 832 Pennsylvania St. The building is an old warehouse known as the Poultry Building. (I’m assuming because someone left some KFC in the break room fridge for too long.) Or maybe it used to be a building that processed poultry long ago. Regardless, the new plans call for 11 new office spaces to be housed in the building.
Krsnich already has converted one half of the Poultry Building into a multitenant office space. He had left the other half of the building unfinished in hopes of finding a restaurant user for the space. But Krsnich said demand for office space in the district has grown to the point that he’s changing plans.
“Instead of waiting around for a restaurant operator, we though we could make an impact now by adding more space for entrepreneurs and startups,” Krsnich said.
Krsnich said all nine offices that he’s developed in the Poultry Building currently are leased, and there’s a waiting list for new space. He thinks the popularity has something to do with the funky vibe that comes with having an office in the arts district. He said the office building frequently hosts art events, tenants of the building often stay for social hours on Friday nights, and there’s even a ping pong table that gets pretty heavy use.
“It has kind of turned into a work hard, play hard environment,” Krsnich said.
The Poultry Building already has the proper zoning to house additional office space, so Krsnich just needs some technical site plan approval from the city’s planning office. He hopes to get the approvals for the approximately $220,000 renovation project in the next several weeks.
But there likely will be other, larger projects to keep an eye open for in the Warehouse Arts District. Krsnich confirmed to me that he hopes to break ground this year on a new row house project in the arts district.
He envisions it will be called 9 Del Row Houses, and will be at the northwest corner of Ninth and Delaware streets. That’s catty-corner from Krsnich’s recently completed 9Del Lofts apartment building.
The row house project won’t feature a large multistory building like the lofts project, but rather will include about a dozen single or two-story living units that also could be made into work-live units. That means artists might be able to live on-site and also have a studio in the building. Or, there might be the possibility for some small retail storefronts as well, depending on what type of zoning approvals the project can win from the city.
Krsnich said the 43 apartment units in the 9Del Lofts building were fully rented within 30 days of the building’s opening in mid-2015. He said the project, which is primarily rent-controlled housing, has a waiting list of 60 to 70 people.
There’s another large project in the pipeline for the district. As we reported in December, plans have been filed to convert the old SeedCo building at 826 Pennsylvania St. into a brewery restaurant and apartment building. Longtime liquor executive Matt Williams is planning to open the Lawrence Beer Company, which will include a restaurant, on the ground floor of the old industrial building. Plans also call for 14 one- and two-bedroom apartments to be built on top of the old building. The proposed design envisions adding two stories onto the old 1900s-era building. Krsnich is not involved in that property, other than his group is the seller of the building, but he said he’s excited about what that project will add to the district, if approved.
On a smaller scale, Krsnich said he is still working to open a bistro at Eighth and Pennsylvania streets in the small stone building that is next to the Poehler Lofts. Krsnich said he is in negotiations with an operator for the business, but can’t yet reveal the name of the party who would run the bistro. Krsnich said he still envisions an establishment that would serve both food and drink, with an emphasis on attracting neighborhood residents and the growing workforce with offices in the district.
He said he hopes to have a deal in place that would allow renovation work on the building to begin in April, which would make a fall opening possible.
One last project Krsnich is involved in is the old Turnhalle building, the 1869 stone structure at Ninth and Rhode Island streets. Krsnich in 2014 bought the historic property from the Lawrence Preservation Alliance with hopes of finding a user for what is one of the older buildings in the city.
Thus far, the building remains vacant, but Krsnich said his company has applied for a couple of preservation grants that he hopes to get word on soon. He also continues to market the property to users, but said he doesn’t have a deal to announce. But he does have an idea of what he thinks is likely for the property.
“I would be very surprised if the Turnhalle didn’t have some sort of restaurant component to it,” Krsnich said.
City Commission to decide fate of debated ‘Quonset hut’ in East Lawrence; more on a food truck bistro in Warehouse Arts District
Hut, hut! In some places that phrase signals the delivery of an under-inflated football, but not here in Lawrence, where we like our footballs round and orange. Instead, we’re just getting warmed up for a City Hall debate over whether an old Quonset hut in East Lawrence should be torn down.
We’ve previously reported that Black Hills Energy would like to tear down a Quonset hut at 620 E. Eighth St., which previously served as the natural gas company’s maintenance facility. But the proposed demolition has been met with resistance, including from the city’s Historic Resources Commission.
City commissioners on Tuesday are set to decide the issue. Both the city’s Historic Resources Commission and the city’s planning staff are urging city commissioners to deny the demolition permit and instead require Black Hills to come up with another plan of action.
On a 3-1 vote, the Historic Resources Commission determined that the old Quonset hut — which was built in 1955 — was an important part of the Eighth and Penn Neighborhood Redevelopment Zone. Several neighbors have said the building is a good example post WW II architecture and helps convey the retro industrial character of the neighborhood.
But officials with Black Hills say they need to demolish the structure in order to do some necessary testing of the soil. The property in the late 1800s was a manufactured gas plant, and those operations left some environmental residue. Black Hills hopes to sell the property, but before that happens attorneys want a thorough testing of the property to determine what environmental liabilities still exist.
City staff members, though, are offering some alternatives to demolition. They include: sell or give the structure to someone who would move it to a compatible site; move the structure to a different part of the Black Hills site that has already been tested; remove the concrete slab of the building and conduct the tests with the building still standing; or do a few core samples to determine if further testing of the site is warranted.
It does seem like you should be able to remove the floor and do some testing without removing the building, but Black Hills officials have said that there’s reason to believe testing crews may have to drill fairly deep, and leaving the building standing will limit bringing a large drilling rig to the site.
Black Hills officials have argued the city’s Historic Resources Commission didn’t even have authority to review the demolition permit, but rather has overstepped its bounds. It also says the Historic Resources Commission has misidentified the property as a Quonset hut. It is not an actual Quonset hut, but rather just a metal building with a slightly rounded roof. Indeed, it does look different from a typical Quonset hut.
The property is adjacent to the Warehouse Arts District, which is part of the Eighth and Penn historic district. But Black Hills notes that the old maintenance building was not considered a contributing structure to that historic district, and thus the district won’t be harmed if it is removed.
This will be the first historic preservation test for the new City Commission. Everybody has a different definition of what is worthy of protection, so we may start to get a read on that issue from commissioners on Tuesday.
Then there is the question of what would happen to the building if it remained on the site. I’ve heard some area residents say it could be a cool art gallery as part of the Warehouse Arts District. I’ve heard another say it could be a neat restaurant, perhaps an old style diner or hamburger joint with a 1950s theme to match the era of its construction.
Hamburgers may be neat, but since it already is shaped like a hot dog, maybe a place that serves footlong coneys with cheese, onions, peppers and, of course, lots and lots of chili. Given the history of the building, there’s even a perfect name for such a place: The Gas Hut.
Commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It will be East Lawrence night at City Hall on Tuesday. Also on the commission’s agenda is a request to allow a new bistro/drinking establishment at 804 Pennsylvania St. At issue here is whether the city should waive a previously established requirement that the location make at least 55 percent of its sales in food. That requirement was put in place to stop any future establishment from becoming a straight bar use.
A group led by Tony Krsnich, the developer of the Warehouse Arts District, owns the small building, which is just west of the large Poehler Lofts building. Krsnich has proposed creating a bistro that also serves beer, wine and cocktails. The establishment would be unique because its food would come from food trucks parked in a special area just outside the business. The building is small, which makes it tough to install a kitchen, Krsnich has said.
Originally Krsnich agreed to the 55 percent food requirement as a compromise with neighbors who were concerned about having a bar open in the neighborhood. But now Krsnich said he can’t find anyone willing to operate a bistro at the location with that requirement. He said he has no interest in operating a rowdy bar at the site, but he said no one wants to make the investment in this location with the chance that they could fall a few percent short on food sales and be forced to close.
Commissioners dealt with the items a few weeks ago, and it looked like they were ready to uphold the 55 percent food requirement. But they instead asked the neighbors and Krsnich to meet again to see if another compromise is apparent.
As the item comes back to the commission, Krsnich is sharing more details about how the food truck portion of the business is likely to work. Five food operators have provided information about their plans to locate at the bistro, if the 55 percent food requirement is removed. They are: Drasko’s Food Truck & Catering; KanBucha; Optimal Living; Torched Goodness; and Wilma’s Real Good Food.
Three of the five appear to be food trucks.
Drasko’s often is outside The Granada Theater in downtown, and promotes its puffy taco and brisket cheese fries, among other dishes.
Torched Goodness sells creme brûlée at a variety of events, but also has done other food truck creations as well.
Then there’s Wilma’s Real Good Food. That appears to be a prominent food truck in Kansas City. Well, actually, it looks like it operates out of a highly decorated Airstream trailer.
In a letter to commissioners, owner Brett Atkinson says he’s moving his personal residence to Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District, and Lawrence will become his new home base of operations for the food truck. He said he plans to serve food at the bistro at least one day per week for the next five years. In terms of the food, his Facebook page lists items like meatloaf sliders, bourbon pecan pulled pork sandwiches, and some type of towering pastrami creation.
It will be interesting to see how commissioners deal with this issue. The city long has had a 55 percent food requirement for new drinking establishments in downtown. (There are a few building locations that are grandfathered in, but any drinking establishment seeking to go into a new location has to meet the requirement.) But until now the city had not really shown a desire to expand that 55 percent food requirement to other parts of the city. The concern is that without the requirement an area could become a bar district. Theoretically, any strip mall could become a bar district as well. Some strip malls are pretty well separated from neighborhoods, but some are pretty close to residential housing. If approved Tuesday, is this the beginning of a new trend in Lawrence? Will you have to meet a food requirement if you want to open a bar anywhere in the city?
• One last word about food trucks. Krsnich also is one of the organizers of the Kansas Food Truck Festival that took place in the Warehouse Arts District on May 2. Krsnich said the success of that event has him more convinced than ever that a bistro built around the food truck concept will work well.
Krsnich said his staff has finished tallying the results of the festival. About 4,000 people attended the one-day event, which produced $23,000 in proceeds for the local food bank Just Food, which is led by Mayor Jeremy Farmer. That’s up from $7,500 the event produced for the food bank last year, which was the first for the event.
New downtown store opens with focus on selling locally produced goods; Warehouse Arts District hires promoter, moving ahead with second loft apartment project
Even if you are like me and know more about pizzas than Picassos and understand mimosas better than Monet, it is still hard to miss that there is a significant art trend underway in downtown Lawrence.
There’s the Warehouse Arts District that continues to form around the old Poehler grocery warehouse building in East Lawrence, the Final Fridays events seem to be growing larger downtown, the Lawrence Arts Center is in competition for some major grants, and the city recently formed a new “cultural district” to encompass downtown and the surrounding area in an effort to create a more comprehensive effort to showcase the arts. What folks may not be picking up on as much is that the private sector is getting in on the act, too. The latest example is Essential Goods, a new arts and crafts based stored at 15 E. Seventh St.
The store, which is in space above the Java Break, carries the work of local artists and craftsmen, said Molly Crook, an owner of the new shop. The work includes handmade sweaters, purses, local photography, a variety of jewelry, cards and prints, locally made candles and a line of natural body care products. About a third of the space is devoted to a studio that produces the body care products and candles.
The bulk of the store’s inventory, though, comes from other area artists — about 20 at this point — who sell their work on consignment. Crook said that is becoming a real trend in downtown, following on the success of the Massachusetts Street-based store Made, which also sells locally produced products.
“It has been neat,” Crook said. “Stores like Made have really opened up a portal. Before, everybody was just trying to do this online.”
Crook said it will be interesting to see how far the trend goes. Already she is noticing more traditional downtown retailers starting to carry locally produced goods as part of their inventories.
“I definitely think people are looking for more local and handmade works,” Crook said.
The new store currently is open Thursday through Saturday, but Crook said an expansion of hours is being considered.
As I mentioned above, the Warehouse Arts District near the area of Eighth and Pennsylvania streets is continuing to make noise. The latest is it has hired a new full-time employee to promote the district.
Patti McCormick, who worked for several years as the main promoter for the local group that owns The Oread and The Eldridge hotels, has been hired by developer Tony Krsnich to promote the district.
McCormick said she is entering the job with the idea that the district has a chance to become a “national creative arts destination.” There already are several artists who have their studios in what is called the SeedCo Building, an old warehouse a bit south of the Eighth and Pennsylvania intersection.
The district, though, will make its biggest splash in the coming weeks. McCormick said the Cider Gallery is scheduled to open by the end of the month in a building just west of the renovated Poehler Lofts building. The gallery, as we’ve previously reported, will be a sister gallery to the Kansas City-based Weinberger Fine Art Gallery. McCormick said the plan calls for the Lawrence gallery to feature “nationally recognized, emerging and museum quality artists.”
Also, as we’ve previously reported, Krsnich and his partners have a plan to build a new building to house apartment lofts on vacant ground just south of the Poehler building. The latest news on that project is that Krsnich has settled on a size and has submitted an application for low-income housing tax credits to the state. According to information provided to the city, Krsnich is planning on a 40-unit loft development, with 34 of the units being designated as low-income units that would have rent-controls placed upon them by the state.
City officials recently wrote a letter of support for the project to the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, which hands out the tax credits. It looks like the agency is expected to make a decision in May on what projects will be awarded credits.
Rebecca Buford, executive director of Lawrence's Tenants to Homeowners, also confirmed to me today that Tenants to Homeowners will be a partner in the project. The organization will be the nonprofit partner that will allow the project to apply for $400,000 in state HOME funds and $400,000 in funds from the Federal Home Loan Bank.
Tenants to Homeowners main mission is to help people buy affordable housing in the city, but Buford said her organization has seen a need to increase affordable rental units in the city.
"There are plenty of apartments in Lawrence," Buford said. "That's not the problem. There is just a gap in affordability."
Once the project is built, the development group — not Tenants to Homeowners — will serve as the manager of the project, but Tenants to Homeowners will have an oversight role.
One last art item to get out of the system. If you are an actual artist who has a Lawrence-based project on your mind, there’s a grant program out there wanting to hear from you. But the deadline is quickly approaching. The deadline for the city of Lawrence’s Community Arts Grant program is 5 p.m. on March 25. The program uses city funds to provide grants of $500 to $2,000 for projects that “promote awareness and appreciation of the arts in Lawrence and encourages arts collaborations within the community.” Click here for an application.