New apartment project slated for Ninth Street near KU; former auto dealership to become home for Hertz car rental

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World File Photo

Oldfather Studios, at 1621 W. Ninth St., is pictured on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2010.

UPDATED: 2:45 p.m. May 6, 2021

If a film were made about my days living in a college apartment, it would have been a horror flick. A completely innocent protagonist (me, of course) caught between two monsters — an angry pile of dirty dishes in half the rooms and a stinking pile of laundry in the other half. (Remember, I’m innocent, though.) I don’t know that any films are going to be made, but plans have been filed for new apartments to be constructed on the site of a longtime film studio.

A group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton has filed plans to construct a 117-bedroom apartment building near Ninth Street and Avalon Road on the site formerly occupied by Oldfather Studios.

For about 25 years, KU’s Film and Media Studies Department used Oldfather Studios at 1621 W. Ninth St. for a variety of production work. The old building had one of the largest sound stages in the area, left over from its days when it was home to Centron Corp. If you remember, Centron Corp. was a leading producer of industrial and educational films in the 1950s, ’60s and beyond. It was home to one of Lawrence’s more impressive filmmaking facts: In 1969, it produced the Oscar-nominated short film “Leo Beuerman,” which profiled how a man with physical disabilities came to downtown Lawrence most days on his tractor to sell pencils.

KU took ownership of the building in 1991, following the closure of Centron Corp. The film department worked in the building until 2017, when it moved to Summerfield Hall on the main KU campus.

A group led by Compton ultimately purchased the property from KU through a bidding process. Plans now call for the site to be converted into the most popular type of development along that stretch of Ninth Street: apartments that serve students and others who want to be close to the KU campus, which is just a few blocks up the hill.

This apartment building, though, will be a bit different from the others. It will feature an underground parking garage, which has become a real trend in the new apartment complexes built near the campus.

Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects has filed plans showing a three-story apartment building that sits atop a 73-space underground parking garage. The plans also show a small surface parking lot just off Ninth Street and a slightly larger approximately 25-space parking lot that would be accessed from Avalon Road.

Architect Paul Werner told me the apartment building will have 49 separate apartments. He said the majority of the units will be one and two bedrooms, but there also will be a significant number of four-bedroom apartments.

“We still favor the one- and two-bedroom units, but we like to give the students choice too,” he said of the design. “There are some students who like living with roommates.”

Overall, the building will be 52,000 square feet — quite a bit bigger than the Oldfather building, which will be demolished. For reference, past articles reported that the Oldfather building had about 18,000 square feet. Werner said, though, the building fits well on the site. The building is pushed closer to Ninth Street to provide separation from houses to the south, and the project is retaining all of its stormwater on site via an underground storage facility.

“We feel like it is a really good location for apartments,” he said.

Werner said plans call for the apartment project to be open for the fall semester, but he said the timeline could change as material prices change. He said developers are keeping a close eye on construction costs currently, and that the feasibility of projects is changing quickly because of the high cost of lumber and other materials. The project has most of its needed approvals from the city. The site plan approval doesn’t have to go through the Planning Commission or the Lawrence City Commission, but rather receives administrative approval from the planning department.

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I do have one other piece of new business news to pass along. Perhaps you have noticed activity at the former Sixth Street Auto site near Sixth and Colorado streets. Well, indeed the lot is filling up with cars, but it is not a sign that a new auto dealership is coming to town.

Instead, a new car rental business is slated to go into the location. Greg Maurer, owner of the large Dale Willey Auto Group on south Iowa Street, owns the small car lot on Sixth Street. He purchased it after the previous owner got into tax trouble and the lot had its vehicles seized by the state.

Maurer told me he has struck a deal to lease the property to a business that plans to open a Hertz car rental location on the site. Maurer won’t be operating the rental car business, he told me, but rather will just be the landlord.

I don’t have much more information about the business, but Hertz already is listing the location on its national website.

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