Successful consensus-building led to the development of the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza, which is a "positive" example of downtown redevelopment and enhancement, Lawrence officials told a group of planners from around the state.
"Strong leadership with a vision is needed in order for diverse groups to reach a consensus," said Jean Milstead, a Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioner and former chair of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.
Milstead made the remark during a luncheon talk Friday to about 40 members of the Kansas chapter of the American Planning Assn., which sponsored a luncheon at the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza and a forum at city hall.
MILSTEAD said Lawrence struggled for more than 10 years over proposed downtown retail projects and malls before the riverfront plaza was finally built.
"Because many of the downtown businesses are small mom and pop shops, reaching a consensus on various issues has been a constant struggle," she said. "In retrospect, I feel the difficult task of reaching a consensus was made more difficult by emotional decisions and political influences."
During the APA's forum at city hall, David Longhurst, manager of the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza and former mayor, explained the success of the factory outlet project.
"It was a successful project because it did not have to deal with so many negatives," Longhurst said.
LONGHURST said planners need the cooperation of retailers, neighborhood groups and the city in order to build such a project.
He told the group of planners to be prepared for public concerns, such as the environmental impact of a project. But such issues may be brought up "to voice another concern," he said.
"When we started talking about removal of some of the cottonwood trees along the river we touched base with all the environmental agencies, and they said there would be a minimal impact," he said of the early stages of construction of the riverfront project.
"But we were still challenged with people who said the bald eagle won't come back," Longhurst said. "And I think the objection was, `Oh my God, they're going to build this and we don't have many options left to stop it.'"
BALD eagles reside in the winter near the Riverfront Plaza. Residents had expressed concern that construction of the project would disrupt the eagle's habits.
Dave Evans, chairman of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, told the planners to do five things when trying to develop a particular area: talk to everyone who could be affected as soon as proposals are formed; don't be afraid to bring political issues to the forefront; be flexible; share plans with all parties as they develop, and be prepared for controversy.
"I think the center of political controversy for the last 10 years has been centered around the development of downtown Lawrence," Evans said.