Mini-golf is now a possibility for downtown project, but small, city-owned parking lot would need to close

photo by: 3D Development/City of Lawrence

A rendering of proposed redevelopment for the former Journal-World production facility in downtown Lawrence is shown.

If you are like me and you like your barbecue large and your golf mini, I have a downtown Lawrence update that may be up your alley.

Kansas City’s Q39 barbecue restaurant has won a key City Hall approval to locate in a portion of the former Journal-World printing plant building, just south of Sixth and New Hampshire streets in downtown.

But in a new twist, one of its neighbors may be a mini-golf course. A local attorney for the Kansas City development group working to redevelop the entire Journal-World printing plant site confirmed the group hopes to convert a small city parking lot near the site into a mini-golf business.

Lawrence attorney Patrick Watkins told me the development group — Kansas City-based 3D Development — is working on a deal to buy the small city-owned parking lot that is located along Sixth Street, at the point where the road curves and becomes New Hampshire Street. If you still are having a hard time picturing it, the lot is across the street from Lawrence City Hall.

“We envision some open space amenities there,” Watkins said. “We think it is a great location for some add-on (uses.)”

One of those, Watkins confirmed, could be mini-golf. There were some hints of that idea in January, when we reported on development plans being filed for the former site. A concept plan showed uses in the city-owned parking lot north of the former J-W site, and one of those uses looked a lot like a mini-golf course. But the developers backed away from that part of the concept plan pretty quickly, saying that portion of the plan was highly conceptual.

This week, though, Watkins confirmed the development group is in active discussions with city officials about acquiring the parking lot. Watkins said the development group likely will ask for a financial incentives package from City Hall to help the development company undertake the multimillion-dollar redevelopment of the former Journal-World printing plant complex. It appears one of the items the development group will seek is the right to buy the parking lot from the city.

Watkins said the idea makes a lot of sense, given that the developers plan to create an open air courtyard in a larger portion of the former Journal-World building. As we’ve reported, plans call for the northern portion of the former J-W building to become a 20,000-square-foot courtyard. Developers would remove the roof from that portion of the building, but leave the exterior walls, to create a partially sheltered outdoor entertainment area. The courtyard would be lined by small indoor kitchens that would be occupied by small restaurant entrepreneurs, creating a food hall-like environment.

When the lead developer of the project, Kansas City’s Vince Bryant, was in Lawrence in January to discuss the project, he teased the idea of having an ice skating rink in the courtyard during the winter. Bryant has made it known that he likes the idea of fun attractions being tied to his development. He’s the developer behind the 150-foot Ferris wheel in the downtown Kansas City, Mo. area.

In Lawrence, mini-golf might be the unique attraction. The community currently doesn’t have a mini-golf course.

Other uses envisioned for the courtyard include big watch parties — the area would have a large LED screen — and unique events like small concerts, outdoor movies, or maybe even a mini-farmers market. Watkins said having the ability to have true outdoor space just north of the courtyard area could be an important addition to the project.

“It is something that would play off the open space we will have in that courtyard,” Watkins said. “It is so close and would create such a convenient arrangement.”

photo by: Douglas County GIS/Journal-World

The green star at the top of the photo shows the city-owned parking lot that could be converted to a mini-golf course. The red star shows an area envisioned for an indoor-outdoor courtyard. The blue star shows the location for a new Q39 barbecue restaurant.

Watkins said he expects to present a financial incentives request to City Hall in the next 60 days. That’s when discussion of whether the city should sell the parking lot likely will get started. But that is likely to be just one piece of the incentives request. Watkins did not go into details about what else the developers may ask for. Past projects, though, frequently request the city to issue industrial revenue bonds, which would allow the project to buy all its construction materials without paying sales tax.

Some projects have asked for property tax abatements or rebates. However, retail/restaurant-driven projects don’t always seek such a tax break. Instead, they ask the city to grant legal authority for the development to charge a special sales tax to shoppers and diners. The development group gets the proceeds from the special sales tax to help cover certain construction-related expenses.

Parking in downtown Lawrence has been known to create some debates. We will see what other downtown merchants and users think of the city closing that lot. The lot has spaces for approximately 25 to 30 vehicles. As for where consumers of this new development would park, the city-owned parking garage that is across the street from the project — the one at Sixth and New Hampshire on the site of the former Riverfront Mall — would be a likely landing spot.

While the idea of mini-golf is enticing, two other aspects of this development are the true meat and potatoes of the project. One of them is Q39. The restaurant is the only announced tenant for the development. As we’ve reported, it would occupy 7,000 square feet of space in the southern portion of the former J-W building.

The restaurant has signs at the site touting a fall opening. However, the project needed a key approval from the city’s Historic Resources Commission. Q39 wanted to make changes to the facade of the building, including painting the red brick white. While the building is not historic, it is in a historic district, and the city’s regulations don’t necessarily love the painting of brick in such districts. However, Watkins said Q39 has received its necessary approvals from the HRC, and that the restaurant essentially has its necessary land use approvals to proceed.

In case you need a reminder about Q39, the restaurant has locations in midtown KCMO and Overland Park, and leans heavily into brisket creations. It bills itself as a creator of competition-style barbecue, and also would offer a full bar at the Lawrence location.

The other part of the project we are keeping an eye on is a plan for a major office user to occupy much of the building’s Massachusetts Street frontage. In January, the developers said they had a tenant who had preliminarily committed to fill 17,000 square feet of office space over two floors of the project. Watkins said that deal is still in the works, but not finalized. The name of the company has not been announced.


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