Developer seeks tax breaks to redevelop old Borders building in downtown Lawrence

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Post updated at 10:14 p.m. Tuesday, June 13:

First Management Inc. is seeking tax breaks from the city to remodel the long-vacant former Borders bookstore building in downtown Lawrence into corporate headquarters. 

The Borders building at 700 New Hampshire St. has been vacant and deteriorating since the bookstore closed in 2011. Though projects — including a grocery store with upstairs apartments — have been proposed for the building over the years, none has come to fruition. 

The company is looking to remodel the building in order to create more office space for First Management Inc. and First Construction LLC, owned by developer Doug Compton.

“The companies outgrew their Lawrence office in early 2020 and constructed and relocated their corporate headquarters in October 2020 to rural Douglas County,” according to the agenda materials, referring to the headquarters at 1451 North 1823 Road. “Due to unprecedented growth, we have once again exceeded our office capacity and finds it necessary to relocate and expand to accommodate additional employment growth and retention.” 

Plans call for about $4.3 million in capital investment to completely remodel the Borders building’s interior, a second story addition, tuck-pointed exterior masonry, a new entrance and additional windows and landscaping, according to materials in the Public Incentives Review Committee’s agenda packet for its Wednesday meeting. 

The company seeks Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRB) for a 100% sales tax exemption on construction materials for the building. It is also seeking a 15-year, 90% Neighborhood Revitalization Area (NRA) rebate, according to a report in the agenda. 

Altogether, the tax breaks are estimated to come to about $912,000, according to a cost-benefit analysis in the documentation: 

Cost-Benefit-700-NH-Staff-Technical-Report

Lawrence city commissioners in August 2022 referred the project to the PIRC for review. City staff recommends the PIRC approve the IRB sales tax exemption and NRA taxing jurisdiction. The project would then return to the Lawrence City Commission.

“The redevelopment project will meet one of the City’s foremost goals of increasing job opportunities with wages above the Area Median Income,” according to the staff report. “In addition, the redevelopment of a currently dilapidated structure into productive use will enhance the local economy, producing adequate returns on the investment of public dollars in the short term and substantial returns in the long term.”

The company anticipates adding seven new full-time positions with an annual pay range of $90,000 to $120,000, and 14 new full-time jobs paying $50,000 to $70,000 annually, according to the agenda item.

The developers “have also taken into consideration the continued preservation of the historic livery stable wall, which was also preserved as part of the original construction of the building,” according to the staff report. “Current plans include structural and façade improvements that will still maintain the historic nature of the wall.”

First Management Inc. was founded in 1991 and has built many residential and commercial properties around town, such as Marie S. McCarthy Hall, the 888 Lofts, Theatre Lawrence and the Lawrence Humane Society, according to its website.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times The site of the former Borders bookstore at 700 New Hampshire St.
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Heartland Community Health Center has also requested an IRB for a 100% sales tax exemption to construct a new facility.

The new facility, estimated to be a $2.6 million capital investment, would be adjacent to Heartland Community Health Center’s Sixth Street building, at 534 Michigan. It would include “expanded resources for psychiatric and mental health services for adults and children, a large multi-purpose room to host cooking and nutrition classes in partnership with Just Food and Harvesters, and additional office space to bring administrative services in-house,” according to the agenda item

The estimated foregone sales tax for the project is estimated at $372,000 total for the city, county, school district and state, according to the agenda.

The two requests will be reviewed at a Public Incentives Review Committee Meeting at 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 14 in the City Commission Room at Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The meeting will be livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/lawrenceksvideo

Written public comments may be emailed to scamp@lawrenceks.org until 8 a.m. the day of the meeting. People may also provide public comment during the meeting in person at City Hall or virtually via Zoom. Register for the Zoom meeting at this link. See the full meeting agenda at this link

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Caroline Zimmerman (she/her) interned for The Lawrence Times in May – August 2023. She has also covered crime and public safety for the University Daily Kansan, and the Eudora City Commission for the Eudora Times.

Follow her on Twitter. Read her work for the Times at this link.

Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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