Sunrise Project seeking donations to renovate old Sunrise Garden Center; other businesses looking at site

Sunrise Garden Center building, 1501 Learnard Ave.

Working out of the Bourgeois Pig — her office for the day — Sunrise Project director Emily Hampton said she and the community are anxious for the nonprofit to open at its new location: the old Sunrise Garden Center off Learnard Avenue.

Some growth has already started at the site, which is intended to house a few businesses, but the Sunrise Project — one of the biggest pieces of the enterprise — needs $40,000 in donations in order to renovate and settle in.

“We’re hoping to be next in line to get there,” Hampton said. “We’re excited to open up, to start programming on the site and serve as a neighborhood center. We’ll engage a lot more people.”

The parcel at 1501 Learnard Ave. is shown in this undated aerial photograph from the Douglas County Geographic Information Systems Property Viewer.

The Sunrise Project, geared toward healthy eating and environmental sustainability, currently operates community cooking and gardening programs at various locations around Lawrence. Their programs, including Healthy Sprouts, Food Rocket, Lawrence Fruit Tree Project and Summer of Service, are open to different age groups from preschool to adults.

The nonprofit’s new spot at 1501 Learnard Ave., near Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, will “open up the opportunity” for more youth to be involved, Hampton said.

Renovation plans include transforming the old Sunrise Garden Center retail space into a classroom, meeting space, community kitchen and offices for the Sunrise Project.

The Sunrise Project received a $39,000 grant from the Kriz Foundation to go toward the renovation. Hampton said most of that funding would be used toward the office space.

Hampton is hoping to raise another $40,000 from the community by June 1, which would allow the renovation to be complete in time for an opening this fall. It was originally estimated that the Sunrise Project would be on site this summer.

Lawrence Organics, a partnership between two Lawrence farms — Moon on the Meadow and Mellowfields — is already growing organic transplants on some of the 3-acre site.

Seeds from Italy, a U.S. distributor for Italy-based Franchi Seeds, is in the process of trying to get a special-use permit from the city in order to operate there.

Central Soy Foods, a Lawrence tofu and tempeh production facility, will start the process of obtaining a special-use permit sometime in the future, Hampton said. If Central Soy Foods receives a permit, it would build a new structure.

There likely will be retail space in one of the existing buildings, Hampton said, though it’s not yet certain what business would locate into it.

Hampton and others involved in the project won approval from the City Commission in December to rezone the site from residential to “light industrial,” opening up the potential for a mix of different uses.

The Sunrise Garden Center, which closed in 2013 and has since been vacant, was considered a nonconforming use in the mostly residential area.

Hampton said the garden center holds a “significant amount of sentimental value” for Lawrence residents.

“Every day we get questions about when we’ll be able to get in there,” Hampton said. “We’re hoping the community can help us get there, quickly.”

Lawrence Organics will hold two plant sales at the site from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 9 and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 8 to give people a chance to see the area.

Hampton is asking that people donate through Generosity by Indiegogo, at As of Thursday, the nonprofit’s campaign had raised $200.