Developer in running for state tax credits to bring age 55-plus, affordable housing project downtown; would pave way for 11th and Mass. redevelopment

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A vacant lot north of 11th and New Hampshire streets, pictured on Feb. 27, 2023, is the proposed site for a commercial/apartment project that would include affordable housing units for the 55-plus community.

A changing skyline and changing demographics may soon be on tap for the south end of downtown Lawrence.

Developer Tony Krsnich said he should know by late summer whether he has won affordable housing tax credits from the state that will allow him to build a new multistory commercial and apartment project near the northeast corner of 11th and New Hampshire streets.

If he does win the credits, expect a new wrinkle to the project: The apartments will be for people 55 and older.

That was one of the new pieces of information that Krsnich shared when I recently chatted with him about long-simmering plans to redevelop what is commonly known as the Allen Press property in the southern end of downtown.

“They’ll be able to walk to shops, walk to restaurants, walk to South Park,” Krsnich said as he ticked off reasons why he thinks an affordable housing project geared toward seniors will be a hit in downtown.

Krsnich said he has applied for affordable housing tax credits to help finance the project that would provide 48 rent-controlled units, in addition to 15,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.

He said the project has made it through the state’s preliminary round of approvals. Now, he’s circling his calendar for July or August, when he expects the state to make a final decision on which projects will win the coveted credits.

If the Lawrence project is chosen, get ready for some landscape-altering changes to the south end of downtown. While the apartment/commercial project will be built on vacant property on the east side of New Hampshire Street — just north of the historic stone church that has been converted into office space — the project also is expected to have impacts at the 11th and Massachusetts intersection.

Krsnich said if he moves forward with building the project on the east side of New Hampshire street, he also plans to begin demolishing several dilapidated buildings near 11th and New Hampshire and 11th and Massachusetts streets.

Those old industrial buildings are where commercial printer Allen Press previously was housed, but they have been vacant for quite some time. Krsnich said it would make sense to immediately tear those buildings down for a couple of reasons. For starters, he will use the space near the corners of 11th and Massachusetts and 11th and New Hampshire to store construction materials for the apartment/commercial project.

But a second reason is even bigger: He wants to be ready to start redeveloping that prominent downtown intersection as soon as he is done with the smaller commercial/apartment project.

photo by: Douglas County GIS map

The green stars show roughly where a new apartment/commercial building has been proposed for construction. The blue stars show former Allen Press buildings and property that could be redeveloped between Massachusetts and New Hampshire streets.

Krsnich figures the timing for such a development is good, as he is convinced the $4 billion, 4,000-job Panasonic battery plant project in nearby De Soto will represent a big opportunity for Lawrence.

Krsnich has not yet filed any plans to redevelop the property on the west side of New Hampshire Street or on the east side of Massachusetts Street. But he does hold a development option on the property, just like he does for the vacant site on the east side of New Hampshire Street. Some people had wondered whether the recent decision by the Allen family to sell the Allen Press business — now located in East Lawrence — meant Krsnich had lost his option to buy and develop the downtown property. It did not, and Krsnich is as bullish on the possibilities as ever.

He said there are many development possibilities for the property west of New Hampshire Street and east of Massachusetts Street.

“That is pretty much a bookend to downtown,” Krsnich said.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A former industrial building along 11th Street between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, pictured on Feb. 27, 2023, may be demolished if plans for redevelopment in the area progress.

He wants to find a statement type of project for the site. He said that could be a corporate headquarters site for an engineering firm or other type of business that is drawn to the area due to Panasonic. It could be a boutique hotel. It also could be a high-end luxury apartment development. He also mentioned that the property could include a mix of commercial uses, including a much-talked-about but long unrealized downtown grocery store.

“There are so many appropriate uses for that site, frankly, we haven’t pinned it down yet,” Krsnich said of his plans.

Any plans that Krsnich comes up with will have to be submitted to City Hall for a host of approvals, including a review of whether plans fit in with the downtown’s historic design guideline. The site is across the street from two major historic buildings: the Douglas County Courthouse and the Watkins Museum building. That historic review likely will be significant.

Krsnich also will need approvals before he can tear down any of the existing buildings. On that front, he is not expecting many problems, he said. The buildings generally aren’t considered among the most historic in downtown.

“We don’t anticipate much, if any, roadblock there,” Krsnich said. “These buildings are moldy. They have broken windows. They are uninhabitable, and have been for many years.”

As for the apartment/commercial project east of New Hampshire Street, Krsnich has won the necessary development approvals from City Hall to construct the building. He now is awaiting the state tax credits, which he said are critical to being able to finance the project. He also will seek a property tax rebate from the city, which has been a key to financing other affordable housing projects that he has done in Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District. That property tax rebate still needs approval from City Hall.

What type of financial incentives he may request for any future project west of New Hampshire Street and east of Massachusetts Street is unknown until details about the project develop. But Krsnich said he’s hopeful that community leaders will get behind plans as they eventually emerge.

“You have all these iconic landmarks in the south end of downtown, and then you have these blighted buildings,” Krsnich said of the current environment. “Fast forward nine months, and maybe there won’t be blight but rather just a generational opportunity to replace that blight.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The former Allen Press property at the northeast corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets is shown on Feb. 27, 2023.


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