Downtown-based construction firm buys eastern Lawrence property for future company headquarters
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo
A locally based construction company is looking to eastern Lawrence for its new corporate headquarters, and it hopes to put a unique industrial building on the state’s historic register in the process.
An entity affiliated with Mar Lan Construction has purchased the old Zimmerman Steel building along East 19th Street, just west of Haskell Avenue. Kevin Markley, a principal with Mar Lan Construction, told me the site was purchased with the intent of moving Mar Lan’s corporate headquarters out of downtown Lawrence. The property also would house shop space for the company’s crews and equipment.
Mar Lan currently has its headquarters in leased space at 1008 New Hampshire St., which is the office building that previously housed Lawrence Municipal Court. Mar Lan is in its 21st year of business, and Markley said the company has long desired to own its own space.
Even though the company makes its living building larger commercial projects, Markley said the company didn’t necessarily want to build a brand new facility.
“We have a strong feel for preservation, and we like when a project can be saved,” Markley said.
In the old Zimmerman Steel building, 701 E. 19th St., Mar Lan has found a unique building that is worth preserving, Markley said. Zimmerman Steel, a metal fabricating business that served the construction industry, dates back to the late 1940s. The company located along 19th Street when the area was still outside the Lawrence city limits, Markley said. Later, in the 1960s, the company added an office area to the front of the old industrial building. It was built in a modern style and continues to be an excellent example midcentury modern architecture, Markley said.
“We felt like this was an opportunity to grab a unique building and sort of keep it looking like it does today, just with some upgrades,” Markley said. “But we want to keep the building looking like it does now.”
The company finalized the purchase of the property about a week ago and already has started the process of having the site listed on the state’s register of historic places, Markley said. In addition to preserving the architectural style, Markley said he’s pleased that the Zimmerman Steel company, which quit operating at the site years ago, may get some recognition on the historic rolls.
Markley said he knew the company’s founder, Lee Zimmerman — who died earlier this year at 94 — for many years. After he and his brother started Zimmerman Hardware in the spot now occupied by Cottin’s Hardware near 19th and Massachusetts, Zimmerman made the leap into the steel business, fabricating steel I-beams and other such materials.
“He was just a hard-working Lawrence businessman who went out there and took a chance,” said Markley, adding that he interviewed Zimmerman about his business and the building when it became clear that Mar Lan was looking to buy the property.
The Mar Lan group purchased the property from a group led by Lawrence businessman Tim Keller. We reported back in June of 2019 that Keller and investors had purchased the building and had some loose plans of converting the office portion of the property into space for a small, neighborhood-oriented business, perhaps one that served traffic along the Burroughs Creek Trail, which is next to the site.
While those plans are now nixed, Markley said Mar Lan would consider its options for the largely vacant piece of property that is just east of the Zimmerman Steel building. Their deal included the purchase of that property. Markley said the company would consider some sort of infill development at the site in the future, but said no firm plans have been established for that part of the property.
Mar Lan hopes to have its headquarters moved into the site by next summer. The event and promotions company Silverback continues to occupy a portion of the building with a lease that runs for several more months, Markley said.
Markley said the Mar Lan project was an indication that the construction business continued to remain strong, even during the pandemic. Mar Lan does work in about a 100-mile radius of Lawrence, but has several projects in Lawrence itself. It currently is doing major exterior renovations to the USD 497 administration building, and also is the primary contractor for Douglas County’s mental health campus, and is nearing completion on the large Home Sweet Home Dog Resort under construction on Wakarusa Drive.
“The balance of our year looks good, and for 2021 I’m going to say our cup already is about half full,” he said.