Kennedy Glass undergoes expansion; updates on East Lawrence, Warehouse Arts District projects

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Temporary offices have been set up outside the main complex at Kennedy Glass near Seventh and New Jersey streets. The company is undertaking a major renovation of its facilities as part of an expansion of its business.

I know one sure-fire way to grow the revenues of a glass company is to pay for my green fees, buy me a beverage and point me toward the fairway with the most homes. Evidently there are other ways too, as an East Lawrence glass company is undertaking a major expansion.

I’ve also got updates on several other East Lawrence development projects, but let’s start with glass. Kennedy Glass has undertaken an expansion and renovation of its office building and shop complex at 730 New Jersey St.

Lawrence developer Tony Krsnich led a group that purchased Kennedy Glass from its longtime Lawrence owners about 2.5 years ago. Since that time, Krsnich said the company has grown from about $2.5 million in revenue to about $5 million in revenue. That’s created strain on its East Lawrence headquarters.

“It has just caused us to outgrow our offices,” Krsnich said.

Work is underway on a project that has converted some underutilized shop space into a new automotive glass center for the business. The previous shop space used for automotive work is being converted into about 1,500 square feet of new office space. Existing office space is getting entirely remodeled, as well.

“We will have class A industrial offices when it is done,” Krsnich said.

As far as what’s causing a surge in glass business, Krsnich cited a variety of factors. The company has done a large upgrade in technology, which created some new efficiencies. It has expanded its automotive glass business by adding three vans equipped to do glass repair remotely, and, significantly, the new ownership group has brought a variety of new business contacts to the operation.

“Historic preservation work has become a nice niche for us,” Krsnich said, “if for no other reason than my background in it.”

Krsnich has redeveloped multiple old buildings using historic preservation tax credits, most notably in Lawrence the Poehler Lofts building.

He said Kennedy Glass also was becoming more comfortable expanding its geographic territory. It is doing more work in Kansas City, and recently has completed jobs in Salina and Fort Scott.

“I think in the past the company was pretty slow to take a job outside of Lawrence, and now we are pretty comfortable traveling three hours or so for a job,” Krsnich said.

The company, however, is in a bit of a transitional phase. Marty Kennedy, who led the previous ownership group, has stayed on board to help the new owners take over the company, but he is set to fully retire soon, Krsnich said. The man who had been hired to lead Kennedy Glass, however, has left the company because of some health reasons, Krsnich said.

That has Krsnich and his group looking for a new president of the company.

“It will be a big-time job,” Krsnich said of the position, which will require someone with top-level business management experience, ideally with some knowledge of the construction industry. “We are hoping that person exists in Lawrence, but we will be looking in the Kansas City area too.”

As for other East Lawrence development news, I got several updates from Krsnich, who is the lead developer for the Warehouse Arts District. Here’s a look:

photo by: Rendering by H2B Architects

Penn Street Lofts

• Construction work on the Penn Street Lofts project, 800 Pennsylvania St., is about one to two weeks behind schedule. Krsnich, who is the lead developer for the project in the Warehouse Arts District, still expects the project to be open by the end of July.

More interesting than the timeline is what may ultimately end up in the mixed-use project. The upper floors of the four-story building will house just under 40 rent-controlled apartments that will require tenants to have median incomes at or below 80% of the area’s average. The ground floor will have 10 live-work units that could bring new meaning to owner-occupied businesses in Lawrence — such as the owner lives in the back and has a shop in the front.

Krsnich said interest has been strong in those units so far. He said he’s heard from people who want to open a bakery, a coffee shop, a fabrics company and a small day care.

“But we are so far out that we aren’t really taking applications at this point,” he said. “But all of those would be positive for the area, we think.”

• The Penn Street Lofts project is kind of on the north end of the Warehouse Arts District. A project that Krsnich has been planning for the south end of the district — at Ninth and Delaware streets — is now less certain, he said.

Krsnich said he’s uncertain whether he will pursue in 2021 a mixed-use project that he’s dubbed Live Work Lawrence. That project has called for a dozen or more apartments and live-work spaces on the corner site.

Krsnich said he’s had to rethink the feasibility of that project amid the pandemic. He said the pandemic hasn’t created a slow-down in possible tenants, but has created major problems in terms of construction costs. Work shutdowns at various mills have slowed production of lumber and other key building materials.

“We need to have some things go our way in order to do that project this year,” Krsnich said. “Lumber pricing in particular has just killed us. If you didn’t have your lumber prices locked in, it is just very difficult to get a stick-built project to pencil out right now.”

photo by: Journal-World file photo

The Turnhalle building, 900 Rhode Island Street, is pictured in this 2012 file photo

• Krsnich has one other project that has been even more affected by the pandemic: the old Turnhalle building at 900 Rhode Island St. If you remember, the Turnhalle is widely considered one of the oldest commercial buildings in Lawrence, dating back to 1869.

Krsnich bought the building in 2014 from the Lawrence Preservation Alliance, which had purchased it a couple of years earlier to halt the building’s deterioration. Krsnich bought the building with the idea of finding a tenant who would help shoulder the significant costs for needed renovation.

He long figured some sort of restaurant or event space would be a likely user for the space that already features a balcony and a bit of a stage area. Now, though, he has the property up for sale.

“I don’t know what to do with the Turnhalle,” Krsnich said of his decision to put the building on the market.

“A restaurant on the lower level and event space on the main floor, that idea couldn’t be more dead right now with the pandemic,” he said. “Even when things do come back, that doesn’t mean they will bounce back right away, especially with all the vacant commercial space there will be in town.”

The approximately 7,000-square-foot, two-level building could be a large residence or a couple of large residences, theoretically. However, it was important to the Lawrence Preservation Alliance that the property not be converted into a private residence. Its historic use has always been something commercial or open to the public, and LPA wanted to preserve that part of its past too.

“What is the No. 1 goal?” Krsnich asked. “Is it to restore and preserve the building or to make sure it doesn’t become a particular use? I think it would be much cooler to not have it be a private residence, but I’m not sure the world today is going to allow us to choose that.”

The property is listed on commercial real estate sites with an asking price of about $350,000.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to reflect that the Lawrence Preservation Alliance has not placed a covenant on the property that prohibits residential use at the property.


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