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Chat with Jane Pennington, new Director of Downtown Lawrence, Inc.

September 14, 2007

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Chat with Jane Pennington about her role as the new Downtown Lawrence, Inc., Director and about upcoming events this fall in downtown Lawrence.

Moderator:

Hi. This is your moderator, Cody Howard. Our thanks to Downtown Lawrence, Inc., Director Jane Pennington for joining us today.

Jane Pennington:

It's a pleasure to be here, Cody.

Moderator:

Please start by telling us a little about your background. How long have you been in the job? What did you do before taking over at DLI? How long have you lived in Lawrence?

Jane Pennington:

I've been in the job now about two months. Prior to this, I was the Director of Development for the Lawrence Community Theatre. I've been doing fundraising and nonprofit management work for over twenty years. The economic development area is new to me, but will be a wonderful challenge. I have a great mentor in my father who was the director of Downtown Topeka for over 17 years. I'm sure I will get lots of good advice from my old man.

I've lived in Lawrence for about twelve years and recently bought a house on Mass Street, so I practically live Downtown.

cowboy:

Hi Jane , will you be riding that fabulous horse of yours, Kanza , in all of the parades this year ?

Jane Pennington:

I do plan to ride Kanza in the parades. She did her very first parade a few weeks ago in Overbrook and behaved like a veteran. I'm looking forward to riding her down Mass Street.

Moderator:

There's a big event set for tonight in the heart of the city, with the second annual Get Downtown party. Please tell us a little about that and some of the other big events planned this fall in Downtown Lawrence.

Jane Pennington:

The Get Downtown party starts at 4:00 p.m. with a DJ spinning records. At 6:00 Twang Daddys will hit the stage for some traditional country music like Johnny Cash and the old favorites. Then at 8:00 $ELLOUT takes the stage to perform covers from all sorts of bands ranging over the past 30 years. There will be something for everyone including food, drinks and other family fun.

There will also big a dedication ceremony for the new mural honoring Aaron Douglas and other artists and musicians from the Harlem Renaissance that have connections to Kansas later this month.

The First Annual River City Reading Festival will take place in October at the Lawrence Arts Center and children will again be painting windows along Mass Street with ghosts and goblins to celebrate Halloween.

Moderator:

A recent study by the City showed it would be in the best interest to either significantly raise parking fees or eliminate them altogether to ease parking congestion in downtown Lawrence. What is DLI's take on this?

Moderator:

And I should mention they have also discussed extending hours into the evening...

Jane Pennington:

There has been some discussion of extending the hours to increase the amount of funds available for night time patrols in Downtown. I know we are all interested in dispelling the perception that Downtown is dangerous at night and if extending hours and adding policemen patrolling at night will do that, then great. Parking is a big issue Downtown and there have been suggestions that Mass Street should not have meters, but have two hour time limits similar to the lots on Vermont and New Hampshire. It has also been suggested that some 15 minute spaces in strategic locations would help those merchants that have customers who just need to run in to pick up a prescription or make a payment. I think we need a combination of strategies to optimize parking and communicate to Downtown visitors where they can find parking.

Moderator:

How safe is downtown Lawrence at night?

Jane Pennington:

Downtown is VERY safe. There have been a few isolated incidents that have been highly visible that have lead to the perception that the streets are not safe. I think you would be hard pressed to find incidents of muggings or robberies or other petty crimes that put people in danger. We live in a college town and there are young people and alcohol downtown, but for the most part, people are very well behaved.

ilovelucy:

What do you believe could be done to encourage less empty store fronts and lack of gallery space downtown? Do you believe that a cap on taxes or rent would help? Thanks-

Jane Pennington:

With the exception of one or two buildings, Mass Street stores do not stay empty long. There are new shops opening all the time. Property taxes are a major issue Downtown and that cost is passed on to tenants meaning higher rent and operating expenses. I don't think it is possible to put a cap on taxes but I do think we can work with the County appraisers and develop a better understanding of how they assess value and work towards consistency.

rrh:

Jane, what was your father able to accomplish in all those years with Downtown Topeka? What advice has he given you so far in your new job?

Jane Pennington:

He helped pass the legislation that created the Neighborhood Revitalization Act that provides tax rebates on building improvements in revitalization areas. They were also able to make significant changes in the look of Downtown Topeka's street scape with planters, brick walkways, lighting and other pedestrian enhancements. His best advice so far has been to listen to stakeholders and work towards finding common ground.

Moderator:

That concludes today's chat. Our thanks to Jane Pennington for joining us.

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