Plans filed for new live-work project on far east side of Lawrence; manufacturing project moving ahead

photo by: Courtesy: City of Lawrence and Grob Engineering Services

Renderings for live-work units proposed 3600 Thomas Court in eastern Lawrence are shown. The building would have three living units, with 1,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor and 1,000 square feet of living space on the second floor.

Maybe the dining room table works well for your work-at-home arrangement, but my words per minute on the keyboard have declined by at least half because of the fork in my hand. A new project proposed for the far east side of Lawrence is betting that people soon will be looking for more formal work-at-home options.

Plans have been filed at City Hall that would allow four new mixed-use buildings to be constructed near the intersection of Franklin Road and 23rd Street. Each mixed-use building would have three units in it. The ground floor would have 1,000 square feet of business or workshop space, while the second floor would have 1,000 square feet of living space, according to Lawrence businessman Roger Johnson, who is leading the development.

3600 Thomas Ct, Lawrence, KS 66046

Johnson envisions selling the units as condominiums, and he thinks demand will be solid as more people start having second thoughts about returning to a traditional office environment.

“I hate to say it, but I think COVID probably helps a project like this,” Johnson said. “There are just more people thinking about their options these days.”

But the idea for the project came to Johnson long before the pandemic. He said he travels to Montana frequently, and he’s seen several of the projects take off in those markets.

“They do them all over up there, and it seems like they can’t do them quick enough,” Johnson said.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Up to four live-work buildings could be built on the vacant lot near Franklin Road and Thomas Court in eastern Lawrence. The lot is shown Aug. 12, 2020.

As for the type of user the units may attract, Johnson said he wasn’t sure yet. The ground floor retail space is being designed with an overhead garage door and with other features that would make it suitable for workshop space. But the space also could be renovated to fit more of a traditional office use. He also said some small-scale retail also might be allowed under the city’s zoning codes, but he didn’t think it was likely that there would be large amounts of retail at the location.

“This is something new for Lawrence, and we are kind of working through this together,” Johnson said of the regulations that are being developed by the city for the project.

As for the living units, Johnson said the first building will be designed for one-bedroom units. He said some future buildings may be designed to accommodate two-bedroom units. The site plan filed with the city is seeking approval for a total of four buildings, but Johnson said he plans to develop them in phases. The first phase will be just one building, he said.

The live-work concept is becoming one that is attracting more attention from Lawrence developers. As we’ve reported, the new Penn Street Lofts project in the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence is scheduled to have a live-work component to it. Developer Tony Krsnich has said the project will include 4,500 square feet of ground-floor commercial space, and at least seven housing units that will be marketed as live-work space.

On the far west side of town, another project could have some live-work elements to it. There are early signs of development on the Miracon Plaza mixed-used project at the northeast corner of Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. Plans for that project call for a two-story 10,000-square-foot building that would have office and retail space on the ground floor and up to five two-bedroom apartments on the upper floor.

But the development isn’t a true live-work project because the retail and apartment spaces aren’t being leased as a combination deal, Ryan Hays, an agent with the project’s commercial real estate firm Block & Company, told me. But the project certainly could function that way for a business owner who wanted to rent a space to live and have an office below.

As for the status of the project, Hays said site work has begun on the project, but a firm date for building construction to begin hasn’t been set. He said the group is still in negotiations on landing a first tenant for the project, and he said it was unlikely work would begin until a deal had been struck. The project is seeking to attract a variety of neighborhood retail uses, with one of the spaces having a drive-thru window that would accommodate a coffee shop or similar use, Hays said.


While we are on the far east side of town, let me provide an update on a project worth watching in Lawrence’s VenturePark. I get a few questions about whether U.S. Engineering is moving ahead with its plans for a new manufacturing facility at VenturePark, which is near 23rd Street and O’Connell Road in eastern Lawrence.

The company has consistently said it is moving ahead, and the paperwork at City Hall backs that up. A site plan for the new building — one of the last steps before construction can begin — recently was filed with City Hall.

As we reported in May, the City Commission approved giving the company an extra lot in VenturePark because plans for the company’s project had grown from about a 100,000-square-foot building to about a 150,000-square-foot building. The site plan filed with the city actually shows the building checking in at about 162,000 square feet.

The last word from the company, though, was that the larger building wasn’t going to cause employment totals to grow, at least not initially. The company has said it intends to have about 140 jobs at the facility over a four-year period. Average wages are expected to be about $72,800.

The company makes a variety of specialty ductwork and other equipment for HVAC and other mechanical systems for building projects. No word yet on when construction will begin, but a site plan approval would put the company in a position to pull a building permit at nearly any time to begin work at the site.


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