Apartment complex coming to east side near O’Connell Road; 55-plus development coming to west side; pet food plant to get new owner

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Plans have been filed for a new apartment complex at the southwest corner of 23rd and O'Connell, pictured in March 2023.

Let’s do some news and notes from around town:

• Look for a fairly sizable apartment complex to spring up near the intersection of 23rd Street and O’Connell Road. Plans have been filed for a project that would build eight two-story apartment buildings on the approximately 8.5 acres that sit at the southwest corner of the intersection.

In total, the apartment complex would have 128 apartments, with half of them being one-bedroom apartments and half of them being two-bedroom apartments. In addition, there also would be a 2,500-square-foot clubhouse.

A group led by Lawrence developer Roger Johnson has filed the plans for the project at City Hall. Johnson told me the project is designed to be workforce housing, which means it could be for workers at Lawrence VenturePark across the street from the site.

Or, there is another likely possibility: The new $4 billion, 4,000-job Panasonic battery plant under construction in De Soto. The new apartment complex will be less than a 15-minute drive from the battery plant.

“It is a short drive, and there will be a lot of them that want to live in Lawrence,” Johnson said of Panasonic employees. “They may not live in the complex for a long time, but it will be a good place for them to start.”

The plant is expected to start producing batteries for electric vehicle manufacturers like Tesla and others in early 2025. Johnson said it is not too early for Lawrence to start building for the new people he believes will come. Johnson is one of several people around town who I’ve heard say that Panasonic plans to hire and bring to the area 150 engineers in the second half of this year.

The apartment complex isn’t being designed to necessarily attract those employees, but the point is that employees may start showing up far before the early 2025 opening.

This apartment development won’t quite fully develop the southwest corner of the intersection. According to the plans filed at City Hall, the apartment complex will fill the southern portion of the vacant land at the intersection and also the western half of the vacant land. However, Johnson said he still has about 5 acres of commercially zoned land that is right at the corner of the intersection. Theoretically, that could be anything from a bank to a restaurant to a set of shops for barbers, insurance agents or other types of small businesses. At the moment, Johnson said he hasn’t yet received much interest from potential businesses.

“I think we are a little early for that,” Johnson said of the commercial development, “but I think stuff will start happening out there.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Plans have been filed for a new 55-plus living community at the corner of Overland Drive and George Williams Way, pictured here in March 2023.

• While the east side of town is poised to get a new development geared to the working class, the west side may soon get another retirement community. Plans have been filed for a new 55-plus apartment living community in the Rock Chalk Park area in northwest Lawrence.

A New York state-based development company has filed plans to build 134 units of apartments on the vacant property at 5851 Overland Drive. If you are having a hard time picturing the site, it is at the corner of Overland Drive and George Williams Way. As you are driving into Rock Chalk Park off of Sixth Street, perhaps you have noticed the lot that looks a bit like a rock quarry because of the big pile of stones. That’s the site.

The company is Calamar Inc., according to plans filed at City Hall. But according to Calamar’s website, it operates retirement communities under the name Connect 55. The website already is advertising the Lawrence property, although construction has not yet begun. Here’s a look at a rendering the company is advertising for the Lawrence project.

photo by: Calamar Inc.

This rendering from the Calamar Inc. site shows what a new 55-plus community in western Lawrence may look like when completed.

Plans at City Hall do call for the project to be a three-story apartment building that would have 43 one-bedroom apartments and 91 two-bedroom apartments.

• In a room full of sports fans, sure, Lawrence is best known for KU basketball. But in a room full of dogs, I’m betting we’re best known for Kibbles ‘n Bits dog food. Lawrence has been making the popular dog food brand for decades.

That will continue, but the production plant at 727 N. Iowa St. will be doing so for a new owner soon. Post Holdings Inc., a St. Louis-based company, has agreed to buy the Kibbles ‘n Bits brand and several other pet food brands from the J.M. Smucker Co., which has operated the Lawrence plant for several years.

The change in ownership is likely to be completed in April, I’ve been told. The Lawrence operation, when it is fully staffed, has about 150 employees. Lawrence was one of three production plants included in the deal, with the others in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania and Meadville, Pennsylvania.

Post Holdings, a publicly traded company, is probably best known for its cereal brands, including Honey Bunches of Oats, Grape-Nuts, and Malt-O-Meal, but it also owns Peter Pan peanut butter, several British food brands and the Bob Evans food brand that produces a lot of frozen and refrigerated foods.

Post bought the pet food brands, which also included 9Lives, Gravy Train and the Rachael Ray brand of pet food, for $1.2 billion in cash and stock.


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