Former salvage yard site near fairgrounds purchased; Signs of Life bookstore closing downtown, as escape room operator buys building

The former LKQ Mid-America Auto Parts on 19th Street near the Douglas County Fairgrounds is pictured in February 2023.

When we reported in February that the auto salvage yard near the fairgrounds was closing, I was skeptical of how long it would take to remove the hundreds of broken-down vehicles from the 9-acre lot.

(As I’ve told my neighbors many times, gravity will get a car off of blocks, but then the next step gets confusing.)

In the end, though, it only took a few weeks to clear the former LKQ salvage yard site, which is just east of the Douglas County Fairgrounds along 19th Street.

Now, we’ll see how long it takes for the property to perhaps become Lawrence’s next industrial park. The property already has sold, and one longtime Lawrence business is moving part of its operations to the site.

Local businessman Roger Johnson has confirmed he’s part of a group that has bought the property, and fellow businessman Tony Krsnich also has confirmed that he’s moving a portion of his Kennedy Glass business to the site.

Kennedy Glass, which has long had its headquarters in East Lawrence, will move its commercial glass business into the existing buildings of the old salvage yard site. Kennedy Glass will keep its residential and automotive glass divisions, plus its executive offices, at 730 New Jersey St. In other words, just the part of the operation that sells glass to offices, stores and other businesses will move to the former salvage yard site.

“Most of our customers, the automotive and residential customers, will still be going to the same East Lawrence location they’ve been going to for decades,” Krsnich said.

The buildings that Kennedy Glass will be occupying at the former salvage yard site, however, take up only about 1 acre of the property. That leaves approximately 8 acres that could be redeveloped. The property already is zoned for industrial use. Krsnich said he and Johnson will be open to developing a small-scale industrial park at the site, especially since it is located adjacent to the much larger Lawrence VenturePark complex and has easy access to Kansas Highway 10.

The property also is special in that it is in a federally designated qualified opportunity zone, Krsnich said. That gives a future developer a chance to get some financial breaks related to capital gains and other such taxes if they build on the property.

“We are open to hearing what ideas people have,” Krsnich said of future development for the property.

As for the Kennedy Glass part of the project, Krsnich said that has come about because of company growth.

“We just grew the commercial division to the point that we ran out of space,” Krsnich said.

Krsnich and business partners bought the company from the Kennedy family about five years ago. Krsnich said the business was good then and has gotten better since.

“We went out and borrowed money to make significant investments not only in the real estate to make it more efficient, but we really invested in building an executive team that I would put up against anyone in the construction industry,” Krsnich said. “And now we have started winning larger jobs and larger clients.”

In other news and notes from around town:

• Downtown Lawrence’s Signs of Life bookstore is closing after 20 years, and the building has been bought by a local businessman who operates everything from breakout rooms to miniature golf cocktail bars.

The shop, which has specialized in selling Christian books along with operating a cafe, plans to shut down in the next month or so, Signs of Life owner and founder Clay Belcher told me.

“It is mainly just a retirement, and it kind of seems to be the time to wind things down,” Belcher said in a brief interview.

Belcher said he has recently signed a contract to sell the large building at 722 Massachusetts St. Area businessman Matt Baysinger confirmed to me that he has finalized a deal to purchase the building, which is a big one in that it takes up the equivalent of two large storefronts on Massachusetts Street.

Baysinger, though, said he doesn’t yet want to announce any plans for the space until he has had more time to learn whether the concept will meet with city approval. But Baysinger said he knows his business background will give people plenty to speculate about until he does release details.

I first started writing about him as an owner and founder of both Mass Street Soda and one of Lawrence’s first breakout/escape rooms. He’s no longer in the soda business, I believe, but he has grown his operations in the world of escape rooms and other types of experience-based entertainment venues.

He now has a Kansas City-based company called Swell Spark that operates escape rooms in Kansas City, Hawaii and Omaha, in addition to an axe-throwing entertainment business and Sinkers Lounge, a cocktail bar in Kansas City’s Power & Light District that features an indoor mini-golf course.

Locally, Baysinger also is involved in the 1900 Barker bakery and Taylor’s Donuts along 19th Street.

Baysinger said he hopes to have details to announce on his newest Lawrence venture in the next week or so.

As for Belcher and his 20 years in business, he said he has thoroughly enjoyed it, and will remain in the community upon retirement.

“We have loved being in downtown Lawrence and have raised a family here and really enjoyed being part of the scene,” he said. “We will still be in Lawrence and will be enjoying it from a different vantage point.”


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