McLain’s to close its Lawrence restaurant at the top of Mount Oread; an update on Borders project and other downtown properties
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World
UPDATED 9:50 A.M. JAN. 17, 2023
Let’s do some news and notes from around town:
• You’ve had about five years to get your Danish degree at the University of Kansas. No, I’m not talking about the language. I’m talking about the flaky, fruit filled Danishes sold at McLain’s Market at the top of the hill.
If you haven’t gotten that degree, now is your time to cram. The Kansas City-based bakery and coffee shop has announced it is closing its KU-adjacent restaurant later this year. The restaurant is choosing not to renew its lease at 1420 Crescent Road, which some of you may remember as the spot that used to house the former Jayhawk Bookstore.
The company, however, will keep its Iowa Street store open. That location is at 2412 Iowa St., in a spot that used to house a Slim Chicken’s restaurant. A manager at that location confirmed the KU closing. She said the KU location was busy when KU was in session, but struggled during breaks. Plus, the Iowa Street store attracted more families, which generally produces larger tickets than what the KU store produced.
I say KU store, but to be clear, the restaurant site isn’t on KU-owned property. The location is a rarity in that it is privately owned property immediately adjacent to the KU campus and zoned for some commercial uses. It will be interesting to see what may come next.
The property is owned by a Kansas City-based investment firm, Axiom Equities. I haven’t reached out to the group since word of the McLain’s closing has emerged. But the company said in 2016 when it purchased the site that it would take its time to develop a “long-term optimization” plan for the property, which is just a stone’s throw away from the Chi Omega fountain and the entrance to Jayhawk Boulevard.
Beyond its location, the site also is interesting because it has a unique mixed-use zoning designation that allows for a combination of residential, commercial and office development. The site could redevelop in a variety of ways without necessarily going through a full-blown zoning battle at City Hall.
No official word on when McLain’s will close the KU location, but it sounds like it will be closed by the end of the semester, if not before. UPDATE: A manager with the McLain’s said the restaurant’s lease at the KU location ends on April 1, so a closing likely will occur on or slightly before that date.
Redevelopment projects can take awhile, and if you don’t believe me, just drive by the former Borders Bookstore location in downtown Lawrence. Borders closed its Lawrence location at Seventh and New Hampshire streets in 2011, and the space has largely been vacant ever since, except for a time period when it temporarily housed the Lawrence Public Library.
You may recall, though, that Lawrence businessman Doug Compton filed plans in May to renovate the building and use it as the corporate headquarters for his property and construction companies, First Management and First Construction.
But, months later, that project has not started. Compton confirmed to me recently that the project has encountered some delays as it works its way through Lawrence City Hall. However, Compton said he is still pursuing the project.
The delays have to do with a financial incentive request. The project has filed for a 90%, 15-year tax rebate through the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Act. City commissioners have not balked at the request, but in fairness, the request has not yet gotten to them. City staff has requested additional information about the project so that an analysis of the incentive request can be completed.
The city was scheduled to hold a hearing on the request in October, but delayed that hearing to an unspecified date while more information is gathered. Compton told me that he thinks his company recently delivered the last of the needed information to City Hall, so he hopes the request will soon be heard.
“We think it will be a huge benefit for downtown,” Compton said. “You have a huge building that is almost blighted because is has been empty for about 13 years now. It definitely would be a shot in the arm for New Hampshire Street.”
Bringing the headquarters of the two companies — which currently have their offices in far North Lawrence — would bring additional employees downtown. He said the renovated Borders building would have space for 44 offices, up from the 22 that his corporate headquarters currently has. While a large part of his development business is now happening elsewhere, Compton said business has been good. He previously has said the company has grown from about $60 million a year in projects to about $200 million a year, creating a need for more headquarters space.
In it application with the city, the company estimates it will add 21 full-time employees with the new headquarters building. Seven of those positions would have salaries ranging from $90,000 to $120,000, while the remaining jobs would be in the $50,000 to $70,000 range.
The company expects to spend about $4.3 million on the renovation project, which will include converting a false second story in the existing building into functional offices. That would add about 30,000 square feet of usable space in the building
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World
Compton mentioned how the Borders project could provide a boost to New Hampshire Street. The street certainly is going through some changes. In addition to the long vacant Borders property, I recently reported that the commercial space in the bottom of the Marriott hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire had become vacant, now that Gold Medal BBQ has closed. Across the street in the 901 Lofts building, there is a large vacancy where The Summit fitness club previously was located. That gym closed several months ago, and for-lease signs recently have gone up in the windows.
The 901 Lofts building, on the southwest corner of Ninth and New Hampshire, was the building that started the trend of multistory apartment and commercial buildings on New Hampshire Street. Compton was the developer of that building, and had been its owner/operator.
But Compton confirmed to me that he sold the multistory building earlier this year. Douglas County property records and state of Kansas corporate records show the building is owned by a group led by out-of-state real estate investor Kenneth Vonderach. The records indicated Vonderach has offices in both California and Las Vegas, and it appears he owns property across the country.
In checking real estate records further, I also found that a group led by Vonderach also has purchased the Compton-developed 888 Lofts building, which is the multistory building on the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire.
In other words, two of the four corners on one of downtown Lawrence’s more heavily developed intersections is now owned by a new out-of-state owner. That might be an intersection worth keeping an eye on.