In the latest sign KU is getting serious with West Campus development, university closes Park and Ride lot

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The Park and Ride lot on the University of Kansas' West Campus was largely empty on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. The university closed the Park and Ride facility at the beginning of the new school year, however, buses still travel through West Campus to pick up motorists who park in other lots on West Campus.

There are new signs that KU is getting more serious about developing West Campus into a research and business park surrounded by homes and shops. These latest signs read: No Parking.

The University of Kansas has closed its Park and Ride facility located on West Campus in order to prepare for possible construction related to the growing idea of KU Innovation Park. KU will continue to offer motorists a chance to park on West Campus and take a bus to the main campus, but they no longer will be able to use a less expensive Park and Ride parking permit to do so.

A KU spokeswoman confirmed that Lot 301 — the large Park and Ride lot just northeast of the Clinton Parkway and Crestline Drive intersection — was permanently closed earlier this week. KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said via email that the parking lot of several hundred spaces has been closed to “make way for the commercial development piece” of KU Innovation Park.

However, a smaller lot on West Campus — Lot 302, which is northwest of Clinton Parkway and Crestline– remains open. But KU students, faculty and staff won’t be able to buy a special Park and Ride permit to park in the lot. Instead, people who want to park in the lot will have to buy a “Yellow” parking permit from KU at a cost of $302 for the school year. Last year, KU’s Park and Ride permit cost $221 for the year, according to information on KU’s website.

If you have been too busy looking for a place to park to follow the progress and plans of KU Innovation Park, here’s the idea in a nutshell: KU hopes to build 10 or more research/office buildings on West Campus that will attract both high-quality researchers and graduate students, and also private businesses that want to have office space next door to those researchers. In addition, KU Endowment, which owns much of the land on West Campus, wants to make the entire development stand out by building homes, restaurants, shops and other amenities to make the development a top-notch business and research park.

Some of that development may end up locating on the current Park and Ride lot, based on preliminary plans. This master plan document that I reported on in February does a pretty good job of showing how the current Park and Ride facility would be occupied by a mix of retail and residential buildings.

photo by: Courtesy: University of Kansas

Plans are getting more specific for a project that would turn a portion of KU’s west campus into a retail and residential district that would be adjacent to existing and new research spaces designed to attract both students and private companies to Lawrence. The rendering above shows more than a dozen new retail buildings — pictured in red — near the 21st and Iowa intersection in south Lawrence.

The buildings in red are retail buildings. KU leaders have indicated those could be anything from a small grocery store to restaurants to some specialty shops. The buildings in yellow would provide housing, presumably in the form of apartments or condominiums. Notice the large parking garages — the gray structures — that come with those housing developments.

The development also is proposed to have a 12,000-square-foot child care center, which leaders have said is a critical service that high-tech businesses often want to offer their employees.

While the Park and Ride lot is home to a lot of the development, you’ll also notice the retail and commercial components are along both sides of Iowa Street, particularly near the 21st and Iowa intersection.

These concept plans for Phase 1 of the development have been around for several months now, but I was mildly surprised that KU has closed the Park and Ride facility at this point. I thought such a closure might be another year away, but this seemingly is an indication that KU believes the work could begin before the end of this school year.

That said, the project isn’t what I would call imminent. Unlike traditional KU projects that are built by the university on university-owned land, these commercial and residential buildings will have to go through the city’s development approval process. Formal plans for the development haven’t yet been filed with City Hall, although this would seem to mean that such a filing could occur soon. Even once plans are filed, though, a project of this size likely will take several months to wind its way through the City Hall development process, which will include public hearings at the Planning Commission and City Commission levels.

In addition, KU leaders are hoping to get word soon on whether Innovation Park will receive a $50.8 million grant through the state of Kansas’ SPARK program, which is funded through federal pandemic relief funds. That grant could fund new buildings for a Kansas National Security Innovation Center and a Kansas Bio-Innovation & Sustainability Center, both of which would focus on specialized research for groups like the defense industry and the green energy sector.

All that may be exciting — unless you are trying to find a cheap place to park.

The Park and Ride permits were about $80 per year cheaper than the next cheapest parking permit option at KU. Barcomb-Peterson said discussions to create a new Park and Ride facility elsewhere on campus are expected to take place “throughout the coming year with KU Parking staff and the Parking Commission.”

In the meantime, there doesn’t appear to be a pending shortage of places to park on West Campus. The Park and Ride lot only sold 75 permits for the 2021-2022 academic year. Barcomb-Peterson said demand for the Park and Ride permits declined as the pandemic arrived and KU changed some parking policies. Prior to the pandemic, KU freshmen who lived off campus did not qualify for a Yellow parking permit that allowed them to park on the main campus. Thus, the Park and Ride permit was one of their few options. However, with the pandemic, KU changed its policy and allowed freshmen to qualify for the Yellow, on-campus permit, which has reduced demand for the Park and Ride permit.

Lot 302 on West Campus — which continues to be served by buses on a frequent schedule — can accommodate several hundred vehicles. Near midday on Tuesday, the lot was less than half full.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

KU Parking Lot 302, on West Campus, is shown on Aug. 23, 2022. KU officials said people who previously parked in the Park and Ride facility can now park in this lot, however, they will have to buy a more expensive parking permit to do so. Pictured in the background is KU Innovation Park’s latest research and industrial building. KU closed the Park and Ride facility as more construction is expected with KU Innovation Park in the future.


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