Plans filed for new downtown development; former J-W site would house KC barbecue restaurant, unique courtyard event space

photo by: 3D Development/City of Lawrence

A rendering of proposed redevelopment for the former Journal-World production facility in downtown Lawrence is shown.

Maybe award-winning barbecue has been the long-missing ingredient in an effort to convert the former Journal-World printing complex on the north end of downtown into a major new commercial area.

We are about to find out.

Kansas City’s popular Q39 barbecue restaurant has signed on to be an anchor tenant for a large redevelopment of the former Journal-World buildings that currently sit vacant at Sixth and Massachusetts and Sixth and New Hampshire streets.

Developers have filed plans at Lawrence City Hall that list the restaurant as a tenant for the project, but the award-winning restaurant is just one piece of a 70,000-square-foot development that would include office space and “interactive commercial space.”

That interactive commercial space might be the most unique feature in the proposed development. Plans call for a 20,000-square-foot courtyard that would be constructed by removing part of the roof of the old Journal-World building while leaving the walls of the building intact. Inside would be mature landscaping, a stage, a big screen, and lots of flexible space that could be used for everything from large outdoor dining events to special game day celebrations.

“It probably would be as big of an event space as we have in downtown,” Lawrence attorney Patrick Watkins, who is representing the Kansas City development group behind the project, told me. “It would be bigger than the Granada, but it would be outdoors.”

While the courtyard is unique, the detail that really stands out about the project is that it already has three anchor tenants committed to it. Q39 is one of the anchor tenants, but Watkins said two significant office users have also committed to the project. One of the office users would fill 17,000 square feet of space over two floors of the building. Watkins said he could not yet identify either of the office tenants or the number of new jobs they would bring to the community, but he said a future announcement would be significant.

photo by: 3D Development/City of Lawrence

A rendering of a proposed redevelopment of the former Journal-World printing plant shows what the project would look like from Massachusetts Street.

In the meantime, Q39 is the piece of the plan that we can sink our teeth into. Don’t be surprised if it tastes like brisket. The restaurant — which has locations in midtown KCMO and Overland Park — leans heavily into brisket creations. The locations cook a tremendous amount of brisket each day — one area visitors guide put the number at between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds per day — and then make a variety of creations from it. There are traditional brisket platters, but also smoked brisket nachos, a version of a French dip sandwich made with brisket, a burnt end burger, and one of its most popular offerings, the Mr. Burns, which features cubed burnt ends, chipotle barbecue sauce, pepper jack cheese, and onion straws on a toasted bun.

The restaurant was founded by Culinary Institute of America-trained chef Rob Magee in 2014. Magee got hooked on the competition barbecue circuit while working in the restaurant industry in Kansas City, and used that background to start the business. The restaurant is now led by Chef Philip Thompson, who took over in 2022, after Magee died following a battle with cancer. The Lawrence restaurant would be the brand’s first outside of the KC metro.

But I may be letting barbecue sauce cloud my vision here. (It has been known to happen, especially if we run out of wet wipes.) This project is bigger than any restaurant, even a major barbecue one. The Journal-World press room buildings have been largely vacant since 2014, when the previous owners of the Journal-World closed the printing plant. (Full disclosure: The current owners of the Journal-World are not involved in the redevelopment. Ownership of the printing plant location remained with the Simons family, which previously owned the Journal-World.)

For years, the site has been circled as one of the most important in downtown because it is one of the few large enough to house a major new development. Much effort was spent on plans to raze the printing plant building and construct a multi-story hotel, convention center, apartments and retail at the north entrance to downtown. Those plans, however, never came to fruition.

These latest plans are much different. The development group is not proposing to raze the building or add new stories to it. Instead, plans call for the building to basically remain its same size, with the significant caveat that part of the roof would be removed from the building to create the courtyard.

Such projects are a specialty of the development company behind the plans — 3D Development, based in downtown Kansas City, Mo. Vince Bryant is the founder of the company, and also is a University of Kansas alumnus, Watkins said. Since about 2012, he has been very active in the Kansas City development scene, especially in the Crossroads Arts District.

However, his specialty hasn’t so much been music and bars — hallmarks of the Crossroads District — but rather taking existing buildings and turning them into grade A office spaces.

If you are familiar with the historic Corrigan Station building in the Crossroads district, that nine-story office and retail building is one he brought back to life. Other projects include The Creamery office building and the 18McGee building, both in the Crossroads with the latter having formerly housed some of the operations of the Kansas City Star.

photo by: 3D Development

A screenshot from the website of 3D Development shows the company’s Corrigan Station building in the Crossroads District of Kansas City, Mo..

Bryant’s projects have been successful in finding office users who want to be in a downtown setting, and it appears he has found at least a pair of companies that want to be in downtown Lawrence.

Both of the unidentified companies will take the portion of the former Journal-World building that is along Massachusetts Street. Plans call for windows to be installed in the building’s facade along Massachusetts Street, and one of the users will add a mezzanine to have two stories of office space in the building.

The project will have to win design approval from the city’s Historic Resources Commission, but the property already has the proper zoning for the proposed development. Watkins said the project also likely will seek some financial incentives from the city, specifically mentioning the idea of a special sales tax district for the project. He said a formal proposal for incentives hasn’t yet been crafted. Watkins also said the developers will want to work with the city on parking issues, mentioning that the parking spaces in the nearby Riverfront parking garage likely would play an important role in serving the office users.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The eastern side of the former Journal-World printing plant, which faces New Hampshire Street, is pictured on Jan. 10, 2024.

Watkins, though, said the project looks very viable to the developer and is much less speculative than past proposals for the property.

“I think a lot of that has to do with the developers,” Watkins said. “They have been very thoughtful about selecting tenants. They are credit-worthy tenants who are going to be working with the developer so that this can be pulled off.”

This preliminary site plan document shows how the former Journal-World printing plant property could redevelop. The area marked with a blue star would house Q39 BBQ restaurant. The areas marked with green stars would house office users. The area marked with an orange star would house an outdoor courtyard events area.

Other details from the development plans include:

• The unique courtyard area would be in the northern portion of the building in a section that is along New Hampshire Street. That would place the courtyard near Sixth and New Hampshire and catty-corner from the Riverfront parking garage. In addition to the ground-level space, the courtyard would have an overhead walkway that would add to the uniqueness of the space.

While the courtyard would be a large event space for downtown, it also would not be the equivalent of a large amphitheater that you might see in other communities. Watkins also said events in the space would need to be compatible with the office users and the Q39 restaurant.

“It is not a huge space, but it is big enough that it can be used dynamically for many things,” Watkins said of the courtyard.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Much of this section of the former Journal-World printing plant, pictured on Jan. 10, 2024, would be used to house an open air courtyard that would be created by removing the roof from a portion of the structure.

• Q39 would also be located along the New Hampshire side of the building. The restaurant would be in the southern part of the building, which formerly housed the loading docks for the newspaper plant. While the restaurant will keep most of the facade of the building, it does want to paint the brick white to fit with its brand. Changes like that will have to be approved by the city. That’s because even though the former Journal-World building itself is not a historic structure, any changes require special review since the entire downtown area is a historic district.

• The portions of the building that are along Massachusetts Street used to house the presses operated by the Journal-World. Those areas will house the new office spaces. When that Massachusetts Street addition was built, it was designed so that windows could be added to the facade, and the latest plans call for that design change.

• The project would have some additional, small-scale office space for rent. Those spaces would be along New Hampshire Street in the portion of the building that once housed the lobby and front offices for the Journal-World.

• A site plan rendering presented to the city shows the city-owned parking lot just north of the building being converted into outdoor space for the development. However, Watkins said the developers have not formally proposed that idea to the city, and it may not happen. Watkins said the developers like the idea of something like outdoor putt-putt golf on that site, but also understand the city may not have a willingness to part with the parking lot.

The site plan drawing presented to the city also showed a second large outdoor area along New Hampshire Street in front of the Q39 space. Watkins, though, said that portion of the plan is still evolving. The restaurant may choose to use that area for parking rather than outdoor seating.

• The project intends to nod toward the site’s newspapering past. Developers have dubbed the project the Press Yards.

An official timeline for the overall project hasn’t been announced, but the submission of the plans will start the city approval process, which likely will take several months to complete.

photo by: 3D Development/City of Lawrence

A rendering shows the design of proposed redevelopment of the former Journal-World printing site. This view is from near the intersection of Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Much of this portion of the former Journal-World printing plant, pictured on Jan. 10, 2024, would be used to house the Q39 barbecue restaurant.


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