More details emerge about KU project to add retail and housing on West Campus; plan would put retail on both sides of Iowa Street
photo by: Courtesy: University of Kansas
Rock Chalk, let’s shop.
Who knows, it might be a new take on the University of Kansas’ famous chant as the university and KU Endowment continue to put together plans to build not just new research space on KU’s West Campus, but also significant amounts of new retail space too.
A pair of KU leaders on Tuesday released a few more details about how they envision a new KU-led retail and residential development coming to life near the intersection of 21st and Iowa streets in southern Lawrence.
Among the major new details: Concept plans call for more than a dozen new retail buildings to be constructed near the intersection as part of the development’s first phase. That would be about 75,000 square feet of new retail development, and notably, not all of it would be on KU’s West Campus.
A concept plan shared by Dave Cook, KU’s vice chancellor of public affairs and economic development, showed four new retail buildings being constructed on the east side of Iowa Street on vacant KU Endowment-owned property at the northeast corner of 21st and Iowa streets. If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is the vacant ground that essentially is next door to the city’s fire station at 19th and Iowa streets.
That would put the new retail spaces just a short walk down the road from KU’s Daisy Hill, home to the bulk of KU’s dormitories.
The concept plan shows there would be even more retail space on the other side of Iowa Street on what is commonly referred to as West Campus. The plan that Cook shared as part of a video interview with KU Chancellor Douglas Girod showed eight new retail buildings on the west side of Iowa Street.
The concept map also shows 300,000 square feet of housing space, including two parking garages to serve the residential development. Previously, KU has estimated the housing component might consist of 300 new residences in multistory buildings.
photo by: Courtesy: University of Kansas
University and KU Endowment leaders for months have been discussing, as the Journal-World has reported, the idea of converting parts of West Campus into Innovation Park. That development would add new laboratories, offices and other research space while also building new retail and housing nearby, in hopes of attracting businesses that want to be close to KU students and researchers. In turn, KU leaders are hoping the additional activity will serve as a recruitment tool to reverse a trend of stagnant to declining enrollment on the Lawrence campus.
KU leaders, though, haven’t widely shared the concept plan that shows how significant the retail development could be and that it would spread to the east side of Iowa Street.
On Tuesday, Girod said the latest plans show the seriousness the university has with the Innovation Park project, and also the interest level that it is attracting from outside entities. KU Endowment, rather than the university itself, is leading the efforts to build any retail or housing projects as part of the development. That would mean private endowment funds, rather than state or tuition funds, would be the driving source behind the retail and housing components.
“This represents a number of different entities coming together to make investments in our community,” Girod said. “It really is others bringing resources to the table that ultimately we will benefit from.
“They do that because they recognize that KU is probably one of the biggest economic engines that our state has going forward.”
KU leaders previously have estimated that KU Endowment may spend about $200 million in developing the private amenities, although not all of that money necessarily would be spent in the first phase of the project. Cook said Tuesday that KU Endowment believes such a large investment is prudent because it could help solidify KU’s standing as a tier 1 research university and aid the university in maintaining its membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities, which is a collection of 66 of the most prominent public and private research universities in North America.
That’s because research space remains at the heart of the new development. While the project would add 75,000 square feet of new retail space, KU wants to add 160,000 square feet of new research space as quickly as it can secure funding for the new buildings.
Tuesday’s presentation provided a few new details on that front. Cook said the first new research building would be an 80,000-square-foot facility that would house a new center focused on security research, including cybersecurity research. KU leaders have reported some of those details previously, but Cook on Tuesday provided a cost estimate for the project: $32 million in construction costs.
KU leaders have previously said they have applied for a federal economic development grant to fund that project, which was a successful strategy in gaining funding for a research building expansion that currently is underway on the KU property formerly known as the Bioscience and Technology Business Center.
Cook did not provide an update on that funding request, but there are signs KU may still have work to do on that front. Officials at Wichita State recently gave the Kansas Board of Regents an update on a project that they also are seeking federal economic development funds for. That project, which focuses on a new smart manufacturing center, was the only Kansas project to advance to the next round of consideration in the latest grant program from the U.S Economic Development Administration. It is not clear what — if any — role that grant program was scheduled to play in the proposed research building, but KU has been successful in receiving several grants from the EDA in recent years to help with research expansion.
The security laboratory building, which is labeled as Phase IV on the concept map below, would be directly north of the current KU Innovation Park incubator building at 2029 Becker Drive. KU also is eyeing another expansion, labeled as Phase V on the concept plan, that also would be an 80,000-square-foot building with a host of wet laboratory space, which would allow for a focus on bio-innovation and sustainability efforts, Cook said. That building, which also would likely seek federal funding, would be just south of the incubator expansion that is underway at 2029 Becker Drive.
photo by: Courtesy: University of Kansas
Getting those two projects underway could be critical to the overall success of the development. Cook said that both of those projects, just like the expansion that is currently under construction, would house private companies that would pay rent and other fees to be part of the development. Revenue from those two buildings, plus the existing incubator space, would likely be enough to fund future building and laboratory expansion on West Campus, Cook said.
“It is an exciting 15-year vision that really sets us apart from other universities in the state, and really nationally,” Cook said.
KU Endowment leaders previously had said they had hoped to file development plans with Lawrence City Hall early in 2022. The project will need a variety of planning approvals from city commissioners before it can proceed. But a representative with KU Endowment, when reached by the Journal-World Tuesday afternoon, said it now likely will be early summer before KU Endowment seeks to begin the public approval process.
Monte Soukup, senior vice president for KU Endowment’s property division, said the association is working with the city staff members on understanding the infrastructure needs for a development of this magnitude. He expects that review to be done by the summer, which would clear the path for city consideration.
Soukup previously has said the development would be interested in a small grocer to locate on the property, but on Tuesday he said it would be premature to speculate on businesses that the development might try to attract, although he said plans still call for a child day care center to be part of the mix.
Soukup estimated it might take five to 10 years to develop the first phase of the project in its entirety. The first phase of the project would not develop on the open athletic fields near the corner of 23rd and Iowa streets, although future phases could expand into that area. The first phase would take space currently occupied by the KU Park and Ride lot. KU has not yet said how it would accommodate an off-campus parking system if that lot is removed.