It would be interesting to know what the city of Lawrence has spent or is committed to spend for projects associated with the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza outlet development. Earlier this week, city commissioners Mike Rundle and David Penny raised the question of how much the city is spending on downtown with Penny asking "How expensive is downtown."
This question has added interest because in 1987, city commissioners asked local residents to vote on a referendum asking whether the city should close the 600 blocks of Massachusetts and Vermont Streets and spend public funds to assist in the construction of an enclosed shopping mall in that area of downtown. One of the main reasons for the vote, according to some in city hall was the $20 million in city funds that were expected to be expended on the project. The public rejected the idea, and city commissioners subsequently turned down the mall proposal.
No vote was sought in regard to the riverfront development. Apparently city commissioners didn't think enough public money would be spent on the project to call for a citywide vote. However, it would be interesting to compare the costs to local taxpayers for the two projects.
The riverfront project doesn't come cheap with the city committed to spending a total of $3.5 million on a parking lot, improvements to East Seventh, Rhode Island and New York streets and other riverfront-related improvements.
The riverfront development is an attractive addition to the city, and it is hoped business generated by this factory outlet marketing scheme will meet or surpass the most optimistic projections of those who pushed and supported the plan. One of the principle selling points in favor of the development was that a high percentage of the shoppers there would also shop elsewhere in Lawrence, primarily in the adjacent downtown area.
It will be interesting to see how the plan works out. And likewise, it will be interesting to learn the final local taxpayer bill for this project, which was favored so enthusiastically by several city commissioners and a few downtown business people. It also would be interesting to know what yardstick is used to determine what amount of local taxpayer dollars triggers a public referendum.