Developers file new set of plans for south Lawrence shopping center, adding apartment complex to the mix
photo by: Courtesy: City of Lawrence, Landworks Studio and CFS
Someday, we will shop again, and developers are still hopeful that it will be at a new shopping center just south of the South Lawrence Trafficway and U.S. Highway 59 interchange. Another set of plans have been filed for the long-debated shopping center, and this time they have a major twist — the shopping center is smaller, but the plans now call for an apartment complex to be built next to it.
“It is more of an overall mixed-use development for sure,” said Brian Sturm, an executive with Olathe-based Landworks Studio, which is doing the design work for the development partners that include firms from Oklahoma, North Carolina and Nebraska.
Sturm said the developers were looking to respond to some public concerns about the previous shopping center proposals. The biggest concern mentioned was that it was too large. The development group now is proposing about 205,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space at the site, which is down from more than 500,000 square feet in previous proposals.
The development also would include about 100,000 square feet for hotels and about 160,000 square feet for office development. So, when you add all that up, there still would be more than 400,000 square feet of commercial uses at the site, which continues to be on the southeast corner of the interchange.
The biggest change, though, is that the easternmost section of the site would house an apartment complex with about 350 living units. The picture above shows a concept plan for the development.
While the public hasn’t necessarily been clamoring for more apartments, Sturm said the apartment component does fit in well with what has been happening in the community, noting that the south Lawrence area has been home to a couple of major apartment developments recently. The nearest is the one that was built just behind Walmart, which gives residents easy access to that nearby shopping. This proposed development would do much the same.
“There certainly has been this type of activity in the multifamily sector,” Sturm said. “And this sits on a really good corridor.”
photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo
Sturm said the project would include new trails that would connect to the existing South Lawrence Trafficway hike and bike paths, which in turn connect to the city’s trail network. He said the combination of trails would allow residents of the new apartment complex to hike or bike deep into Lawrence.
Sturm said the change in plans is a recognition by the development group that the project needed to change to fit certain realities in Lawrence, although it is important to note the plans were developed before the pandemic started hitting the economy. My interview with Sturm, though, was post-pandemic. He said the pandemic impacts haven’t scuttled the project in any way. The soonest construction could begin — assuming that it gets necessary city approvals — would be in the latter half of 2021. Even before the pandemic, Sturm said the development group had come to important conclusions about the timing of the project.
“I think they have just come to the realization that this is a longer-term project than what they once envisioned,” Sturm said.
The development group has changed some. Sooner Investment, based in Oklahoma, has taken the lead role in the development, while the former lead developer, North Carolina-based Collett, remains involved. New to the development filing is Lockwood Development, an Omaha-based firm that has done both retail and residential development.
Sturm said the development group took seriously the concerns expressed by some city commissioners and members of the public that previous plans may have included too much retail for the city. Past plans would have made the development the largest shopping center in the city, surpassing the Pine Ridge Plaza area that includes Kohl’s and other retailers at 33rd and Iowa streets. Size hasn’t been the only concern, though. Development on or near the Wakarusa River floodplain — the river is just south of the site — has been a concern frequently expressed by commissioners and the public.
The new plans do the most to address size concerns, but how much smaller would this shopping center be than past proposals? I’ll give you a sense, but also remember that what has been filed are only concept plans. They could change a lot. The developers, unlike previous proposals, are not currently seeking approval of a specific development plan. Instead, they are just seeking retail zoning — technically called CC 400 — for the site. The actual approval of how the shopping center would look and how large it would be would come later. The project will have to win approval from both the planning commission and the Lawrence City Commission. Public hearings at those bodies are still a few months out, and haven’t yet been finalized.
Back in 2017, the developers filed a plan that would have allowed for just under 400,000 square feet of retail development and about 50,000 square feet of restaurants. That would have allowed for about six anchor retailers and about 15 smaller retailers or restaurants. The new concept plan still shows space for about six larger retailers, but the number of smaller retailers and restaurants have shrunk to about a half-dozen.
The concept plan labels space for a sports retailer, a hobby retailer, a grocer, three apparel stores, and a convenience store/gas station. In the past, the development group has said it was working with Academy Sports, Old Navy, and Designer Shoe Warehouse. Some retailers the group was working with already have located elsewhere in Lawrence, including HomeGoods and Ulta Beauty.
Interestingly, the developers also have submitted a second concept plan for the property. It replaces the six larger retailers with one large building for a wholesale club. Based on the how the building is drawn, with its cutoff corner, that is a reference to Costco. You can see the concept plan below. However, I refuse to get excited about Costco speculation. A Costco coming to Lawrence has been imminent now for the better part of a decade. Employees at their store in Johnson County frequently tell Lawrence shoppers so. But yet, no Lawrence store. But it is worth noting that this could be a site for a Costco, if one ever comes to Lawrence. Usually, such speculation centers on the vacant retail property near Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence.
photo by: Courtesy: City of Lawrence, Landworks Studio and CFS