Yet another set of plans filed for development at Iowa Street and South Lawrence Trafficway; downtown BBQ restaurant closes

photo by: Courtesy: Douglas County GIS

Plans have been filed for development at the southeast corner of Iowa Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. The shaded area with the red star shows property developers hope to annex into the city. The area with the blue star has long been annexed into the city, and likely would be part of any future commercial development.

Let’s do some news and notes about a couple of places around town. One is a place where businesses time and again try to locate but can’t, and the second is a spot that is proving to be a difficult place for a business to remain open.

First, the much-sought-after spot. I’m talking about the intersection of the South Lawrence Trafficway and Iowa Street in south Lawrence. It is one of the few intersections in the entire county that features two four-lane highways, but thus far, it hasn’t attracted any new development.

It is not for a lack of trying, though. City officials over the years have turned down multiple development proposals for the southeast corner of the intersection. It appears they soon will have a chance to hear another plan for development, likely a bit different than the last.

An annexation request has been filed at City Hall to bring 143 acres at the intersection into the Lawrence city limits. Dozens of acres at the southeast corner of the intersection have long been annexed into the city but remain undeveloped. This latest request would increase the amount of land at the intersection that would be inside the city limits.

A group led by Wichita businessman Phil Bundy is pursuing the annexation. The group hasn’t filed a detailed plan yet for what it is proposing for the intersection, and my attempts to get Bundy to answer questions about the project have not been successful over the past several days.

The annexation request, though, does generally list that the group envisions “single-family, multi-family, commercial and open space” uses on the property. That would be a bit different than previous proposals. Specifically, I don’t recall any of the past plans proposing any single-family homes.

The first major proposal for the intersection focused almost exclusively on commercial development, and would have created the largest shopping center in the community. In 2014, developers filed plans for a shopping center that would have included about 540,000 square feet of retail space, making it larger than the Pine Ridge Plaza that houses Kohl’s and other retailers on south Iowa Street. (I say first major proposal, but actually, decades ago, the site was proposed for a mall, long before the SLT was built. That was rejected after one of the biggest development fights in Lawrence history.)

That 2014 plan never won approval from city officials, and a smaller plan calling for about 250,000 square feet of retail space was filed about a year later. It also was rejected. Developers at that time said they had strong interest from retailers including Old Navy, Academy Sports, Designer Shoe Warehouse and others.

Of course, that was a long time ago, so who knows who may be interested now. The bigger question may be how much retail space developers actually are planning for the site. As I mentioned, Bundy is not saying, but rather is leaving the community to guess at this point. It is doubtful he will be able to get through the city’s annexation process without providing more detail. Lawrence isn’t that type of town.

I have heard from some in the local development community who believe his plans for the site call for much less retail than some of the earlier proposals.

Any project at the site likely will face some of the same hurdles as past plans. Those include whether the development is too close to the floodplain of the Wakarusa River, whether the city really wants to see development south of the SLT, and questions that some community members have about whether Lawrence really wants or needs more retail shopping options in the city.

But, if the project reduces the amount of commercial space and puts single-family housing in its place, that may win some more votes from city leaders.

It also may create some questions, though: Is that the best long-term use for an intersection that has two of the most heavily improved roadways in the county? If you are not comfortable making such an intersection a major retail center, where would the community be comfortable with such a center?


photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The former location of Gold Medal BBQ at Ninth and New Hampshire is shown on Jan. 13, 2023.

The second location we are checking in on is at Ninth and New Hampshire in downtown. That has been the site of Gold Medal BBQ, but no longer. Owner Kyle Clemons confirmed that he and his wife, Christina, closed the restaurant earlier this month.

If you recall, the restaurant was on the ground floor of the Marriott hotel at the southeast corner of the intersection. Before Gold Medal BBQ, the site was home to other restaurants, Port Fonda and then Lark a Fare.

Clemons said he and Christina are moving to Dallas, meaning Lawrence is losing both the restaurant and the barbecue food truck the couple operated in the area.

Clemons said a variety of factors led to the closing, including supply chain issues and difficulties finding workers. But he also said the restaurant’s location ended up being a good reminder of how difficult it can be to be located off of Massachusetts Street.

“The fact is, just being slightly off Mass., you don’t get as much foot traffic as you would like,” Clemons said. “Once winter hits, it is brutal. In the summer, we would get the overflow from Mass., but when it is cold outside, it is extremely brutal.”

Barbecue also seems to be a hard fit in downtown these days. Buffalo Bob’s existed for decades, but since then, many have tried and many have failed to become a downtown fixture. For reasons I don’t fully understand, it is much easier to drip salsa on your shirt than barbecue sauce in downtown Lawrence.

Gold Medal BBQ lasted for a little more than a year, but surely will be remembered as having two of the more unique owners in town. Both are Olympic athletes. Kyle Clemons won a gold medal as a member of the 4×400-meter 2016 relay team that competed in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. He ran in those Olympics after completing a record-setting track and field career at the University of Kansas in 2013.

Christina is a former Ohio State track star who competed in the 100-meter hurdles at the Tokyo Olympics.

Kyle Clemons said he is no longer running professionally, and will be pursuing an educational opportunity in Dallas. However, Christina is continuing with her professional track and field career, he said.


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