Developer finalizes purchase of old Allen Press properties on south end of downtown; hopes to soon demolish two buildings

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A former industrial building of Allen Press at the northwest corner of 11th and New Hampshire streets is shown on July 3, 2024. The new owner of the property hopes to win city approval to demolish the building.

One bit of change already has come for the property at and around the northeast corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets. Now, we’re waiting to see if another piece of change comes, this one via a bulldozer and wrecking ball.

The first bit of change is that the property, for the first time in decades, is no longer owned by members of the Allen family, who long used the downtown property for their Allen Press industrial enterprise.

Lawrence developer Tony Krsnich — best known for his development of the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence — officially closed on the purchase of the property in late June.

Now, he hopes to soon tear down one of the larger buildings on the site, but there are questions about when that will happen. Krsnich wants to demolish the two-story cinder block building that is at the northwest corner of 11th and New Hampshire streets. He also plans to tear down the one-story structure that stretches along New Hampshire Street between the two-story industrial building and the Maceli’s banquet hall building, which Krsnich does not own.

“Not only do they need to be torn down, they need to be torn down immediately,” Krsnich said. “You don’t even have to go inside to smell all the mold in the buildings.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Former Allen Press properties near the northwest corner of 11th and New Hampshire streets are shown on July 3, 2024.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A vacant industrial building near the northwest corner of 11th and New Hampshire streets is shown on July 3, 2024. The new owner of the property hopes to receive city approval to demolish the building.

Additionally, Krsnich said police officers are frequently called to the site due to reports of people illegally entering the vacant buildings.

“They have become very dangerous buildings,” he said. “The police department probably has been in that building twice a week for four to six weeks.”

Krsnich said he is trying to proceed with a city process that would allow the buildings to be demolished sooner rather than later, meaning it wouldn’t have to go through the entire Historic Resources Commission process that is often used for properties in the downtown area.

Krsnich said he led a tour of city officials through the building on Tuesday and highlighted some of the unique dangers of the structure. It so happened that while the tour was beginning, police officers were finishing an action to remove trespassers from the building.

Krsnich, who specializes in Lawrence and Kansas City in the redevelopment of older structures, said this building is one of the odder and more dangerous ones he’s been involved with.

“This is really six or seven buildings that have been cobbled together over time,” Krsnich said. “It is a vertical and horizontal maze.”

Exactly how the demolition will proceed, though, isn’t yet clear. The project will require the city to issue a demolition permit before any tear-down activity can begin. Some remediation work may also be required, including the removal of any asbestos that is present in the building.

All of that means that demolition won’t be happening in a matter of days. But Krsnich said he could envision remediation work and preliminary steps for demolition happening in about 30 days. If the city decides the demolition must go through the full Historic Resources Commission process, that could take several months. That process requires review by the city’s Historic Resources Commission and normally requires that the property owner hire an architect to create plans for a proposed replacement building for the site.

Krsnich said that coming up with such a replacement building plan would be a difficulty currently. He is upfront about not knowing what will take the place of the buildings. Shortly after closing on the property purchase on June 21, Krsnich listed the property with Colliers real estate. He is listing the property for sale or for lease. He said he’s doing so because he thinks that is the best way to hear ideas from others about what could work on the site, which is basically at the southern entrance to downtown.

“It is hard to come up with a large-scale option that wouldn’t work there,” Krsnich said.

He has mentioned a ground-floor grocery store with below-ground parking and upper-level apartments. He’s mentioned an upscale hotel. He’s mentioned high-end office spaces.

“But we are not going to get that type of interest if we don’t bring it to the market,” Krsnich said of his decision to list the property so shortly after acquiring it.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

For the first time in decades, the property at northeast corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets is no longer owned by members of the Allen family, which long ago used the site for its Allen Press industrial enterprises.

One project for the area, though, is certain. Excavation work is scheduled to begin today on New Hampshire Street Lofts. As we’ve reported, that project will be built on the east side of New Hampshire Street on property that also used to be owned by the Allen family. Unlike the property on the west side of New Hampshire, that property already was cleared of all buildings. If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it used to be a parking lot that was sometimes used by Maceli’s banquet hall.

The loft project is another affordable housing development by Krsnich, who has done three other affordable housing projects in the Warehouse Arts District. This downtown project, however, will be a bit different in that it will be targeted to people 55 and older with low to moderate incomes.

There will be 49 rent-controlled apartment units in the development. Additionally, there will be eight live-work units on the first floor of the project. In that regard, the project is similar to Krsnich’s Penn Street Lofts project in the Warehouse Arts District, which offers ground-floor units that give business owners the opportunity to have a storefront or business function in half the space, while having living quarters in the other half.

Krsnich said construction work, which will be done by Lawrence-based First Construction, should be complete in about 12 months.

“This time next year, people will be moving into a brand new building,” he said.

Also visible at the site on Wednesday was interior cleanup work on another building on the property. That building is 1040 Massachusetts St. It used to be a grocery store decades ago, but has been vacant for more than a decade. Most of that time its Mass Street facade has literally been boarded up with plywood.

In March, Krsnich told me — and surprised many downtown-watchers — that he was strongly interested in saving that building. With 10,500 square feet of largely open space, Krsnich said in March that it lends itself well for everything from a small-format grocery store to an architect’s office, or maybe even an entertainment space like a bowling alley.

“When you explore what is behind what is boarded up, you see the potential for a beautiful brick building,” Krsnich said in March. “We are extremely excited to save it.”

But now, Krsnich told me he’s not so sure of that plan. He said he is investing some money to have the interior cleaned up so that he can get a better look at the structure. But as he markets the property, he wants potential developers to know that it would be feasible to tear down that building to make room for a larger project.

“That building probably won’t be the highest and best use for that end of downtown,” Krsnich said. “It is probably nine out of 10 or maybe four out of five that we need to rethink this and consider doing something much more vertical.”

Krsnich in March also had floated the idea of building another affordable housing project on the west side of New Hampshire Street, which would basically match the New Hampshire Street Lofts project on the other side. Krsnich said that idea is still a possibility, but he wants to keep his options open there until he hears more from the market.

While he can understand that some people would like more certainty about what will happen with the old Allen Press property, he also hopes that people are excited about the numerous possibilities. Krsnich long has said the size and location of the property on the southern end of downtown make it a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something meaningful for downtown.

“I wish it was more straightforward, but part of the reason it is not is because this, debatably, is the best development opportunity in Lawrence,” Krsnich said.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A boarded up building at 1040 Massachusetts St. is shown on July 3, 2024. The new owner of the property is trying to decide its future.

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