KU Endowment purchases apartment complex to help KU housing; North Lawrence Family Dollar closing

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The Hawker apartment complex at 1011 Missouri St. is pictured on March 18, 2024.

UPDATED 9:15 A.M. MARCH 19, 2024

While local residents sometimes complain that Lawrence has too many apartments, KU officials are now saying the opposite is actually true.

In fact, Lawrence is so short of apartments to house University of Kansas students that KU Endowment has purchased an entire apartment complex near the Lawrence campus. Plus, KU leaders are seeking approval to partner with a national marketing firm to better communicate with potential students about apartments that are available.

KU leaders have alerted the Kansas Board of Regents that for the second year in a row the university will be leasing a significant number of apartments from off-campus apartment complexes.

This time, though, there is a twist: KU Endowment is now the owner of one of those apartment complexes. Regents were told in a recent memo that KU Endowment in February completed the purchase of the Hawker Apartment complex at 1011 Missouri St.

If you are having a hard time picturing that complex, it is just a block north and west of KU’s football stadium, which is undergoing a major renovation as part of a new gateway project being developed by the university.

For the time being, I haven’t seen any indications that the purchase of the apartment complex is a sign that the gateway project is expanding north of 11th Street. That has been a concern mentioned by some neighbors. KU officials previously have said the university won’t be redeveloping north of that boundary road, although they’ve acknowledged that the gateway project may cause private developers to look at redevelopment of that area.

I’ve got a question into a KU Endowment spokeswoman about the recent purchase, so I will provide an update if I get one. However, the property seems likely to be an apartment complex for the long haul. It is well situated on the edge of campus, and demand seems to be high for such units.

UPDATE: A KU Endowment spokeswoman confirmed that KU Endowment has no plans for the property to be connected to the gateway project, saying that the purchase was driven by KU’s immediate student housing needs and that the purchase was “strictly done to provide student housing.” The spokeswoman also confirmed that KU Endowment hasn’t made any other recent purchases of property between Ninth and 11th streets north of the KU football stadium, nor has it made any other purchases of apartment complexes.

Plus, KU is planning on filling it up in the immediate future.

Next school year, KU intends to sign a lease that would allow it to fill all 219 beds at Hawker with students who are seeking housing in KU dormitories. That is up from 19 beds KU is filling at the complex this year.

The bottom line number in all of this is that KU has about 6,000 beds available on campus — mainly in dormitories, but also in scholarship halls and a few on-campus apartments. KU is expecting more than 25,000 students on campus next school year, and more than 6,000 of them want to stay on campus and avoid dealing with a private landlord.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The HERE apartment and retail complex at 10th and Mississippi streets is pictured on Oct. 20, 2022

The Hawker apartment complex is just one property KU is leasing to meet the need. It also plans to lease 202 beds — up from 87 this school year — in the HERE apartment complex, which is on the east side of Mississippi Street, directly across from the football stadium.

I believe KU also will be occupying most, if not all, of the 400 living units in the privately owned Naismith Hall student housing complex at 19th Street and Naismith Drive. As we reported in August, KU signed a two-year lease to have access to all 400 units in that dorm-like structure. KU occupied 200 of those units this school year, but I believe plans are for all 400 of the units to be used by KU student housing in the next school year.

KU has said it is trying to create a dorm-like experience in these apartment complexes by placing a resident assistant — a dorm R.A. — on each floor of the complexes that KU rents.

Of course, another option for KU is to simply build another dorm complex of its own. In recent years it has shut down the majority of the Jayhawker Towers complex, as those units had significant maintenance needs.

But Chancellor Doug Girod previously has said figuring out whether KU should undertake the costs of building a new dorm complex is challenging. KU has experienced some enrollment growth recently — this year’s freshmen class is the largest in history — but enrollment growth hasn’t been the long-term trend at KU. College enrollment generally is expected to dip nationwide as the number of high school graduates is projected to decline for years to come as many families delayed having children during the 2008 Great Recession.

“It is a problem I didn’t expect to have,” Girod told the Journal-World in August.

KU Endowment’s purchase of the Hawker complex may be KU’s solution. Regents were told in the recent memo that KU is working on a long-term lease agreement with KU Endowment. Whether the purchase of the Hawker is more cost effective than building a new dorm is tough to know. The price KU Endowment paid to Hawker hasn’t been disclosed, although that is a question I have into the KU Endowment spokeswoman. The county has its fair market value, for tax purposes, at about $17 million.

UPDATE: A KU Endowment spokeswoman said the association couldn’t release the purchase price price of the project, but said an independent appraisal of the property was conducted, and KU Endowment paid 9% less than that appraised value for the property.

The purchase also is noteworthy for another reason; it is a resumption of deal-making with longtime, but sometimes controversial, booster Thomas Fritzel. The Hawker complex was owned by an entity controlled by Fritzel, according to paperwork of the sale. KU Endowment previously undertook a major public-private partnership with Fritzel and the City of Lawrence to develop the Rock Chalk Park sports complex, which houses KU track and field, softball and soccer facilities in northwest Lawrence. KU and Fritzel also have been in partnership to provide golf facilities at the Jayhawk Club in west Lawrence.

However, Fritzel later was convicted of four felonies — three related to illegal disposal of asbestos at the Jayhawk Club and one related to a tax scheme related to his development of The Oread hotel, which he built and once owned at the edge of the KU campus. Fritzel served his approximately one-year sentence in federal prison, and has returned to Lawrence. Whether this deal marks a return of Fritzel becoming a frequent partner in KU projects remains to be seen.


KU also is seeking approval from the Kansas Board of Regents to get in the business of advertising apartment complexes in Lawrence.

KU wants to enter into an agreement with Rent College Pads — a national, digital media company that will begin advertising apartment listings on KU’s official university website. KU said universities across the country are finding that “it is increasingly common and often expected that the university will assist off-campus students in identifying suitable, student-friendly rental opportunities that the student can privately lease.” Rent College Pads provides that service to the University of Texas, Wichita State, TCU, Utah, Missouri and several other universities in the region, KU said.

Rent College Pads will create a digital homepage for Lawrence apartment listings, which will be placed on KU websites. Rent College Pads will sell the apartment listings to area landlords. KU will get 10% of all new profits from the sales, which are estimated to produce about $5,000 in revenue for the university.


In other news around town:

North Lawrence is losing its relatively new Family Dollar/Dollar Tree store, after its parent company announced it was closing about 1,000 stores across the country. Already, the lines are long at the Lawrence location, as the store was selling everything at 50% off.

The store, which is located in the I-70 Business Center at 1035 N. Third St., opened in late 2022. But its newness did nothing to stave off the cuts. An employee at the store said its last day of operation would be in mid-April.

The parent company last week had cited declining sales and a need to revamp it merchandise mix as a reason for the slate of closures, which represents about 12% of all of the chain’s locations.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The Family Dollar/Dollar Tree store in North Lawrence is pictured on March 18, 2024.


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