Plans filed for large new retail center near Sixth Street and George Williams Way in west Lawrence
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World
Plans have been filed at City Hall that would allow for more than 180,000 square feet of new retail space that could accommodate more than a dozen large and small retailers in far west Lawrence.
A Lawrence-based development company is seeking to rezone vacant property at the southwest corner of Sixth Street and George Williams Way — which also is along the South Lawrence Trafficway — to allow for commercial and retail development.
Lawrence’s Diamondhead LP, led by Kenny Liu, owns the property and is now seeking to rezone the 33-acre tract to a community commercial zoning designation that allows for larger scale retail development, among other uses.
A concept plan filed with the rezoning request shows a design that houses a drug store, a bank, a convenience store and a dozen retail buildings ranging in size from about 5,000 square feet to nearly 60,000 square feet. As is the case with most concept plans, there’s no indication the developers have specific retailers signed to locate in the project at this early stage, and the details of the plan are subject to change.
But the concept plan gives a sense of the scope of the project. The approximately 10 buildings of 5,000 square feet would be similar in size to the typical shop sizes found in downtown. The plan’s two largest buildings — at 57,000 square feet and 48,000 square feet — are big enough to house a variety of national retail chains.
The intersection long has been circled by city planners as a site for commercial development, but previously all eyes have been focused on the part of the intersection north of Sixth Street. The land north of Sixth Street abuts Rock Chalk Park, the public-private partnership that the city spent tens of millions of dollars to help build.
One of the spinoffs of that investment was expected to be a significant amount of retail and hospitality development that would locate next to the sports park and add to the city’s tax base. Eight years after Rock Chalk Park’s completion, the development largely has not materialized. One hotel and a large outpatient medical center owned by nonprofit LMH Health are the only developments to occur near the park. None of the expected retail or restaurant development has occurred.
I reached Liu briefly on Friday, but he said he wasn’t in a position to talk about the project currently. The project seemingly would give retailers interested in Lawrence a similar but slightly different offering of properties than what exists at the Rock Chalk Park site.
To know whether national retailers and others would find the property across the street from Rock Chalk Park more enticing is tough to tell because it hasn’t been very clear why retailers haven’t chosen to locate at Rock Chalk Park. In the last couple of years, no area of Lawrence has had much activity in terms of large retail development.
But during the time period when Rock Chalk Park was being constructed, there was a significant amount of new retail development in Lawrence. However, Menards chose to build a new building in the south Iowa Street corridor rather than locate at Rock Chalk Park, and other retailers including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Ulta Beauty, Hobby Lobby and Home Goods all chose to renovate available buildings along south Iowa Street rather than build new at Rock Chalk.
Interest in south Lawrence retail options show some signs of picking up again as well. In a separate set of filings, a Wichita development group has filed an annexation request for about 140 acres near the southeast corner of Iowa Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. That piece of property has been the subject of multiple development requests that would have built the largest shopping center in Lawrence. However, none of those requests ultimately won approval, and the property remains undeveloped.
The annexation request for the south Lawrence property indicates the developer wants to develop a mixed-use project on the site, meaning it could have some housing, retail and other uses. I’ve got a call into the Wichita developer and will plan to write an update next week.
As for the west Lawrence site, it will now start moving its way through the planning approval process, which will take several months. The property currently is zoned in the unusual category of Urban Reserve. That is a type of zoning category that the city places on a property when it enters the city but it’s not yet certain what type of development would be appropriate for the property. At some point, the city likely will have to remove that designation and allow for some type of development on the property. Before any development happens on the site, both planning and city commissioners will have to approve a zoning designation.