Large building at VenturePark gets its first tenant; Hobby Lobby reopens in Lawrence amid stay-at-home order

photo by: Courtesy: The Chamber, Lawrence/Drone Lawrence

The 153,000 square foot VanTrust building sits near the corner of 23rd Street and O'Connell Road in eastern Lawrence. The building was constructed to attract new tenants to the city's VenturePark business park.

That big empty building at the entrance to the city’s newest business park — Venture Park on the east edge of Lawrence — soon will have its first tenant. Whether the deal will provide a big boost in employment for the city, though, is still a bit unclear.

Plastikon Healthcare has signed a deal to take 22,000 square feet in the 153,000-square-foot building that is near the corner of 23rd Street and O’Connell Road. Plastikon has a production plant in the East Hills Business Park, which is next-door to VenturePark. A Plastikon official said in a statement that the VenturePark building — built by the Kansas City development firm VanTrust Real Estate — would be used for additional warehouse space.

“VanTrust was an ideal partner to help meet our ever-growing need for warehouse space while we continue to expand our site in the coming years,” Kaveh Soofer, an executive vice president for Plastikon, said in a press release.

The release didn’t provide any information on whether the new warehousing activity would produce new jobs for the company. A local official with Plastikon referred questions to the corporate office, and I haven’t yet heard back from anyone there. Several local officials I reached out to also didn’t have any information about new jobs connected with the deal.

The city provided a large amount of tax abatements and free land to VanTrust to build the “spec” building, which means it was built without first having a tenant in place. The city signed off on the deal, in part, because VenturePark had been open for development since late 2014, but had failed to attract a tenant. VanTrust came forward with the building proposal in 2017, saying the park would become more attractive to businesses if there was a building ready to occupy. VanTrust completed the building at the end of 2018.

City commissioners approved the financial incentives package for the building, saying that the project was critical to getting new jobs into Lawrence. This first deal for the building may be an example of how such plans don’t always go in a straight line.

While the additional warehousing activity may not produce a lot of new jobs in Lawrence, the additional space may be key to helping Plastikon expand in the future. The company already has been expanding its Lawrence facility over the last couple of years. The Lawrence plant, among other things, makes and fills plastic vials for the medical industry. If it can start filling them with a vaccine, it will be even busier.

To be clear, I don’t think the Plastikon deal has anything to do with the current virus situation. I think it was in the works well before then. But any company in the health care field will be worth watching in this virus world. With mass testing and other medical procedures looming, Plastikon’s Lawrence location may be in a position to benefit. The Lawrence location is focused on health care, and includes FDA certifications in both medical devices and drugs, in addition to having its own chemistry and microbiology laboratories, according to the company’s website.

The company has already completed a 50,000-square-foot expansion of its facility at East Hills Business Park. As we reported in 2017, when the company was negotiating with city and county officials for incentives related to its expansions, the company employed 22 people, but was competing for work that would add 40 to 60 jobs in the future. The press release announcing the deal for the VenturePark building, noted the company has “added dozens of employees, expanded its footprint and added an injection molding technology suite.” But it wasn’t immediately clear how many total employees the company currently has in Lawrence.

VenturePark is on track to get its first major employer in 2020. As reported, Kansas City-based U.S. Engineering has selected the business park for a new manufacturing facility for specialty heating and cooling components, like duct work and other such items for its construction clients. The company has said it plans to have about 80 jobs at the facility with about average wages of about $73,000 a year.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Keeping up with the hobby business in Lawrence has been tougher than untangling myself from this ball of yarn. (I won’t even tell you the problem I have with the knitting needles.) When Douglas County’s stay-at-home order began late last month, I provided you a glimpse of the types of businesses that were open and closed.

At that time, I noted there was discrepancy on south Iowa Street. Michael’s, the hobby and craft store in the Pine Ridge Plaza shopping center, was open, apparently believing it qualified under the essential business clause in the local stay at home order. However, its competitor Hobby Lobby, which is just across the street, was closed.

Now, the situation appears to be reversed. Hobby Lobby in recent days has reopened in Lawrence. I called the store today, and an employee confirmed the store is fully open, meaning folks can go inside and shop. I called Michael’s to check on its status, and an employee there told me the store was only filling online orders.

The Hobby Lobby news is consistent with some national news reports that have been coming out recently. This one by CBS News shows a sign on a Hobby Lobby door stating the business can operate as an essential business because it sells supplies for PPE masks, educational supplies, office supplies and various components for home-based and small businesses.


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