Developer eyes another senior housing project for downtown, shifts direction on plans for big 11th and Mass development

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A surface parking lot at 11th and Massachusetts Street is pictured on March 6, 2024.

Another affordable senior housing project is likely to develop near the downtown intersection of 11th and New Hampshire streets, Lawrence developer Tony Krsnich told me.

But what’s not likely to come to the lot next door — the highly visible corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets — may be even more interesting. Plans for a big gateway-type project with a tall building for a hotel, offices or upscale apartments are looking less likely, Krsnich said.

Instead, he’s strongly leaning toward keeping the surface parking lot that currently exists at the corner. In addition, he’s also planning to refurbish the boarded-up brick and cinder block industrial building that has sat vacant for more than a decade next to the parking lot.

“When you explore what is behind what’s boarded up, you see the potential for a beautiful brick building,” said Krsnich, who is the developer behind the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence. “We’re extremely excited to save it.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

There is talk of refurbishing this long vacant building at 1040 Massachusetts Street, pictured on March 6, 2024.

That said, it still will come as a surprise to many who watch downtown development. The property at 11th and Mass and 11th and New Hampshire streets is part of the former industrial complex of Allen Press. The property, due to its size and its location at the southern entrance to downtown, has long been considered one of the few sites that could handle a large, transformative type of development.

Krsnich has fueled some of that type of thinking with past comments when he secured the development rights to the property in 2021. But now, Krsnich said a couple of factors have him rethinking such a gateway project.

One of those things is senior housing. If you recall, Krsnich already has committed to building one affordable senior housing project on a vacant lot on the east side of New Hampshire Street, just north of the 11th and New Hampshire intersection.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

This vacant property east of New Hampshire Street and north of 11th Street, pictured on March 6, 2024, is slated to house a 49-unit affordable apartment project for residents 55 and older.

The project would add 49 apartments to downtown, with all of them set aside for residents 55 and older who meet certain income guidelines. The project won $17 million worth of affordable housing tax credits from federal and state entities in July.

Krsnich expects construction work to begin on the project in the next few weeks. He is planning for a late spring or early summer of 2025 opening. When completed, the project also will have eights units on its ground floor that will be “live-work” units, which means they’ll be zoned so a business could have its operations in the front of the space and living quarters in the back, for example. Krsnich envisions everything from retail shops to law offices locating in those spots.

But what he envisions most of all is the project being popular — so much so that he’s now planning on constructing a very similar building on the west side of New Hampshire Street. Plans have not yet been filed with Lawrence City Hall for the project, but rather Krsnich is in the process of preparing an application for another round of affordable housing tax credits.

If approved, the project on the west side would be located where empty buildings for Allen Press currently sit. The location is just south of Maceli’s Catering and Banquet Hall, which would remain.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Buildings along the west side of New Hampshire that once were occupied by Allen Press — pictured on March 6, 2024 — would be demolished as part of a project to build a senior, affordable housing project near 11th and New Hampshire streets.

The new building would be about 20% smaller than what will be constructed on the east side of the street. It would have 39 apartment units and six live-work units. Krsnich thinks there’s a good chance those apartments will be reserved for seniors 55 and older. He is anticipating that demand for units on the east side of the street will be greater than the 49 units that will be available. If so — the project will start signing up tenants in about six to eight months — Krsnich will simply target the new project to seniors as well. Regardless of whether seniors end up being the target market, the tax credits would require that tenants make an average of 60% or less of the region’s average median income.

Krsnich said the prospect of another affordable housing project in downtown seems to make too much sense for him to not pursue it.

“The project just lays out on the site very well,” Krsnich said. “It is easy for the community to understand, very easy for bankers to understand, very easy for tax credit participants to understand.”

But the project takes one option off the table for the 11th and Mass. property. Developers often have thought of building a large project at 11th and Mass. that stretches all the way to New Hampshire Street, eliminating the alley that currently exists. That large of a project would no longer be possible with the affordable housing project occupying all of the west side of New Hampshire.

That’s when Krsnich — who has specialized in working on older, vacant properties — began thinking more creatively about the 10,500-square-foot building that exists along Massachusetts Street. The building — which is just south of the Einstein Bros. Bagels shop — has long been considered blighted, with plywood panels attached to its front and its south wall often targeted with graffiti.

Krsnich is confident his team can add beautiful windows to the front, restore the brick and create an attractive building. It also will be unique because it will have two privately owned parking lots adjacent to it. The lot to the south is large and can accommodate a couple of dozen vehicles, while a smaller lot is just to the north of the building.

Krsnich said he could envision everything from a small-format grocery store to a large law office or architecture firm occupying the building.

“A building like that being used for entertainment is something people will be looking at too,” Krsnich said. “A couple of people have mentioned a bowling alley in there would be good.”

As is the case with the project above, plans have not been filed with the city for the project. But Krsnich has his team working on the designs and other such details to move forward. Krsnich said there’s still a chance that he would move forward with a larger project if a hotel or some other similar project were presented to him. However, he said the current economic and political environment makes the smaller project appealing.

He said higher interest rates are making larger projects more difficult, and he knows that plans for any large, multistory building at 11th and Massachusetts could face significant opposition from preservationists and others who have expressed concerns about such buildings in the historic downtown.

“From the time you contemplate any project, from the moment you have a good idea, you are about three years out from having a ribbon cutting,” Krsnich explained of his thinking. “If we were to take a step back in this inflation, high interest rate environment, we may not be breaking ground in three years.

“Is there something bigger that could go there? Absolutely. Could it be delayed for three or four years and then end up infeasible? It absolutely could. So, I thought, why not do something the community really seems to want?”

Krsnich said the smaller project also doesn’t preclude something bigger from happening on the site 10 or 15 years in the future. The surface parking lot still would be there and could house a significant project at that time, he said.


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