Douglas County leaders to vote on incentives for redeveloping vacant building on New Hampshire Street; city and school board have already signed off

photo by: Matt Resnick/Journal-World

Local businessman Doug Compton addresses the Lawrence school board on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023.

Now that tax incentives for redeveloping a long-vacant building in downtown Lawrence have been narrowly approved by the City Commission and the school board, the Douglas County Commission could soon give the last major approval needed to move the project forward.

At its meeting on Wednesday, the County Commission is scheduled to vote on the incentives for the project at Seventh and New Hampshire streets, the former Borders bookstore location that has sat vacant since 2011. A group led by businessman Doug Compton hopes to turn the site into a corporate headquarters for the businesses First Management and First Construction, and it’s seeking two incentives to make that happen — a 15-year, 65% property tax rebate and a sales tax exemption for construction materials that would save the developers about $80,000.

City commissioners gave preliminary approval to the incentives request on a 3-2 vote at their meeting on Aug. 1, and the Lawrence school board approved it 4-3 at its meeting on Monday. If the County Commission signs off, city commissioners will be asked to give the package one final approval at an upcoming meeting.

The developers are seeking the property tax rebate through the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Act. Originally, they were requesting a 90%, 15-year tax rebate, but their request has since been revised to 65%.

At Monday’s school board meeting, Compton told board members that the project wouldn’t be able to move forward without the incentives package, and Brandy Sutton, director of operations for First Management, said approving the incentives would benefit the local tax base.

“So you’ve taken an asset that had a very low tax value and it was created into a large-asset tax value,” Sutton said. “Which should only appreciate (in value) over the next 15 years and bring in additional revenue to the city, school board and county.”

She also said that leaving the building vacant poses a public safety risk, and that it’s been “broken into five times in the last three weeks because it’s sitting vacant.”

“We actually pay a security patrol every night, and we (still) can’t keep people from breaking in,” she said.

Under the terms of the Neighborhood Revitalization Act, the city, the county and the school district would continue to receive 100% of the property taxes that the property currently generates. The 65% rebate would be on the value of the new improvements made to the property. The city estimated that the project would create anywhere from $16,000 to $23,000 per year in new taxes for the local governments, and that the developer would receive anywhere from $29,000 to $44,000 per year in property tax rebates during the 15-year period.

Compton told the Journal-World after Monday’s school board meeting that there might have been “a lack of communication” among the local governments about the incentives package, and he said he plans to be at Wednesday’s County Commission meeting to answer whatever questions commissioners have about the project.

If the incentives are approved and the project goes forward, First Management plans to bring its 80 existing corporate employees to downtown, from its current North Lawrence location, upon completion of the project. The downtown building also would accommodate expected growth of 21 additional employees who will have wages ranging from $50,000 to $120,000 per year.

The County Commission’s meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Douglas County Courthouse and can also be streamed via Zoom.


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