Lawrence continuing long-term plans for Trades District


The City of Lawrence Trades District has been an ongoing economic development program since 2016, and while city officials are working on financing and priorities, Lawrence Economic Development Director Keith Johnson said the district’s long-term goals remain active and on track.

The Trades District is a primarily commercial and industrial area east of I-465 to Franklin Road, in between the CSX railroad tracks and Pendleton Pike. Some development already has taken place, with some companies, including Freije Engineering Solutions, moving into the area early in the process.

A 2021 update of plans for the district called for additional road and utilities improvements, along with a screen wall to reduce noise from the rail tracks. The plans also called for securing additional real estate in the area to redevelop.

Johnson said that plan is “very much alive and well, and a beautiful kind of vision document.”

“The trick is the implementation, the rollout and how long that will take,” he said. “There was a lot of infrastructure improvements that were identified in the plan and that’s just about the point where Dan Zuerner (the former economic development director) kind of handed it off to us.”

Zuerner left the position at the end of 2023.

The next phase for the city and the Lawrence Redevelopment Commission is to prioritize projects and secure financing to pay for those projects, Johnson said.

“You have these great plans, documents, outlines, from my predecessors,” he said. “Now, implementation, rollout, investment — those are the priority decisions.”

Among the items handed off is a partially designed road in the district, he said, but additional design work on that has been paused. Other actions identified in the plan, including building that road, would require buying property.

“That takes a lot of money,” Johnson said. “Right now, a single parcel (at) Franklin Pike — that’s for sale for $2 million. Acquiring property is probably the biggest expense that we will undergo to execute the Trades District plan.”

In addition to improving infrastructure, the city, through the redevelopment commission, also can buy property to develop with a partner, with the goal of attracting high-end jobs to the community. Those kinds of development projects take time, he said.

“It’s definitely a long game, as it is a long-term vision,” Johnson said.

The first phase of the long-term master plan would cost an estimated $15 million, he said, and the commission has about 10 percent of that on hand.

In the meantime, Johnson said the commission is looking at parcels that are available, as well as what’s already been accomplished, to establish a list of priorities moving forward.

“I’d say it’s still an exploration of determining our priorities before we start spending money on those priorities and figuring out what’s available,” he said. “If you look up and down (Pendleton) Pike, it’s a lot of retail. We would like to see more offices and more residential. So, finding partners to do that is currently on my to-do list.”

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