Plans filed to turn 1950s-era industrial building in East Lawrence into restaurant, large outdoor dining, recreation area
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo
The old East Lawrence industrial building along Eighth Street near the railroad tracks frequently leaves me feeling hungry. After all, it generally is shaped like a hot dog. (I could never work at the Pentagon because my pizza bills would be too expensive.) Now, it looks like dining at that site might be a possibility.
Plans have been filed at Lawrence City Hall to rezone the old Quonset Hut-like building at 620 E. Eighth St. The rezoning is the first step in converting the approximately 2-acre site into a new restaurant with an outdoor dining and entertainment area.
A group led by Tony Krsnich, the lead developer of the adjacent Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence, now owns the property and has hopes of converting it into a unique dining spot.
“Probably the biggest opportunity the space has is outdoor dining,” Krsnich said. “I can picture a space with bocce ball, bean bags. Bring the dog and tie him up to a picnic table. There could be outdoor art, outdoor film, outdoor music.
“You probably have 20 different places in Kansas City that have a real strong indoor-outdoor component like that. There just aren’t that many in Lawrence.”
As for the dining part of the plan, Krsnich said he’s in search of a restaurant operator who wants to partner on the project. That means Krsnich will leave the ideas for specific types of food offerings for the future restaurant operator to decide. But he does have some general ideas. One of them is to bring some food affordability to the East Lawrence neighborhood.
“If it was known that there was going to be a special every single day and maybe one or two menu items where you could grab a bite and a beer and walk out paying $10, that would be something pretty interesting to me,” Krsnich said.
Yes, the dining area would be right next to the railroad tracks. That doesn’t worry Krsnich. There are plenty of people who actually like watching trains, and the occasional noise doesn’t bother them. He remembers that when he first developed the Poehler Lofts building — across the street from the proposed dining site — there were more people who requested the apartments overlooking the train tracks than the ones overlooking downtown and the KU campus to the west.
“Unfortunately, probably, there seem like there are fewer and fewer trains on those tracks as time goes by,” he said.
As far as the building goes, Krsnich said the plan was to make the exterior look pretty similar to its original condition. A past article reported the building was constructed in 1955. Its history is with natural gas utilities over the years. All the way back in the late 1800s, the site was home to a manufactured gas plant. In more recent years, the natural gas utility Black Hills Energy used the building as a maintenance shop. In 2015, the company proceeded with plans to tear down the building, which commonly is referred to as a Quonset Hut, but may not actually be that particular brand of building.
But its vault-like roof does give it a distinctive look, and historic preservationists pushed back on the idea of tearing the building down in 2015. Ultimately Black Hills abandoned the plan and found a buyer, who used the site for some warehousing and shop uses. Krsnich’s group recently purchased the property and is proposing to get rid of the industrial zoning for the site. He’s requesting commercial strip zoning that would allow for traditional dining and retail uses. Part of the property also would be placed in urban reserve zoning, which would limit any type of building on those portions of the site.
A concept plan for the property shows the renovated Quonset Hut, a large open space for dining and recreational uses behind the building, and a large parking lot on the western edge of the property. Krsnich said that parking lot also could serve other uses in the Warehouse Arts District, which includes the Lawrence Beer Company, The Cider Gallery and multiple office users.
photo by: Courtesy: City of Lawrence/Tony Krsnich
In addition, Krsnich said he’s working with a University of Kansas class that is preparing an application to have the building added to the National Register of Historic Places. It marks quite a turnaround for a building that six years ago was just a few days away from a bulldozer.
“We’re looking at this as another preservation project,” said Krsnich, who has used historic preservation tax credits to restore the Poehler Building and several others. “This is another project to do something cool and increase the tax base, and we will get artists involved, like we always do.
“When it is done, it will pay homage to the way the area looked in the past.”
Krsnich said he would like to begin renovation work in the fall, but the project does need significant approvals from Lawrence City Hall before it can proceed. The rezoning will require approval of both the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and the City Commission.