FireTree Estates opens 8th Street entrance
It was just a matter of moving some barricades when it came down to it Saturday, but it was a big event at FireTree Estates when the Eighth Street entrance to the development was finally opened.
"We're finally connected with the city," said Jerry Donnelly, developer of FireTree. "It was an occurrence because everyone has been driving by there and seeing the road that didn't go anywhere.
"It was as if the FireTree development was an island out there," Donnelly said. "That's not the case anymore."
FireTree and Stephens Real Estate had an open house event there Saturday and Sunday for the entire development. Already the new entrance has made a difference.
"We had pretty good traffic this weekend at the open house," he said.
It was one of several developments for FireTree. There was a groundbreaking ceremony for Mid America Bank Friday and Cornerstone Construction closed the purchase on the land along the highway to the west of the bank on Monday. The commercial area will also lead to greater access with ties at Ninth and Tenth streets and that development will be beginning soon.
"Yes, it's happening," Donnelly said. "It never happens as fast as a developer would like."
Dave Hill and Roger Arnold, the major stockholders in Mid America Bank, had their ground-breaking ceremony Friday morning, with Harry North and Brian North, who will be doing the construction, on hand. Brian will be the construction superintendent for the project which will be a 4,000-square foot, full-service bank at Eighth and U.S. 56.
"We're hoping Harry will be up pushing dirt this week," said Hill. "We're hoping for a March opening. We're needing the space really, really bad.
The bank will also house Baldwin Insurance and Hilco Mortgage, which are currently downtown where nine people are working in limited space. When the bank opens, four new people will be added.
"We're already approved regulatory wise to do everything at this bank," Hill said. "We're moving our main bank here with full banking services from Esbon, Kansas, where it has been. We've owned the bank for three years and we've almost tripled the size in three years."
The location along U.S. Highway 56 at Eighth Street is prime. But, the move isn't without regrets.
"I'm excited about moving up on the highway, but I have regrets about leaving downtown," said Arnold. "The location here across the street from the post office has been good. We're just out of space. We're going to be providing the same services in a different location."
Hilco Mortgage and the bank's business niche is in real estate and construction loans, which Hill said amount to $20 million in real estate in the area. Hilco will also be maintaining its Lawrence location, he said.
The developments at FireTree are big, but there's more on the horizon. What's open now is phases 1 and 2 of the project. Donnelly said the next phase will have more affordable homes, in the $130,000 to $165,000 range.
"I'm scheduled to bring phase 3 to the planning commission at the September meeting," he said. "Because of the waste water situation, you either get it done now or you don't get it done."
Donnelly said an additional four more units are planned for FireTree Villas, which are duplex rentals, and those are scheduled for April. For older people who want to buy rather than rent, there's the Silver Leaf Retirement complex. It's all been made possible by the Vintage Park Assisted Living Center.
"There was no place to get old in Baldwin before these," said Donnelly. "The assisted care facility has created an environment that will continue to grow.
"It is working," he said. "It used to be that people who retired had to go to Kansas City or Lawrence. Now they have a place to live here in a small community. We have to sell what Baldwin has and Baldwin has a lot to offer. Baker University is one of the most unique things Baldwin has. Baldwin is just a great place to live."
He also doesn't think it's happening at a pace that will be too much for the city's fragile infrastructure to handle.
"We're not growing too rapidly," he said. "I've always termed it as a bedroom community that's a great place to live."