Last week the Saturday Column noted how fortunate the Lawrence area is as it approached the end of the year, and how much the people of this area have to be thankful for. Also, it was pointed out Lawrence and its residents should have the ability to solve most any challenge. The column posed the question: If a Lawrence, Kansas, cannot solve its problems, how can cities such as Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami be expected to solve their massive problems?
As Lawrence enters this new year, it certainly faces many challenges. Fortunately, a good percentage of these challenges are associated with growth and development, rather than problems tied to declines in population, unemployment and other similar matters.
Recently, a report from the Kansas state demographer projected the Douglas County population to increase by 25 percent by the year 2010. Based on past history, a good share of this growth is going to take place in and around Lawrence.
THIS PRESENTS a number of challenges for the city and county. For Lawrence citizens it means coming up with sound, workable plans to handle a major increase in traffic flows, more school-age children, more land zoned for residential growth, and determining how the city is going to try to provide the services, recreational facilities and other features that would give Lawrence the right to call itself ``America's Finest University City.''
Earlier this month, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce officials released the results of a survey of Chamber members relative to a number of local issues. One of these focused on the question of retail shopping facilities and what the city's policy should be relative to the development of new, larger retail facilities.
It should be remembered the Chamber vote reflected the opinion of Chamber members, most of whom are business owners and employees not a cross-section of Lawrence or Lawrence-area residents. Only 573 members (about 35 percent of the Chamber's membership) returned ballots in the survey; 57 percent of those responding opposed a suburban mall. It is likely those who did vote are those who might be the most directly involved in the retail question: downtown business owners and employees.
IT WOULD BE interesting to know what Lawrence residents, not just the merchants, think about the need for enlarged retail facilities.
The chamber survey also reported that 70 percent of those who voted favored the current city policy which designates the downtown as the city's primary business district. For many years city officials have turned aside any and all efforts for development of a major regional shopping center and have used various means to keep ``old downtown'' as the city's central business area.
Downtown Lawrence is indeed an attractive shopping area but there's little question but that sales totals for businesses on West 23rd Street and Iowa Street far exceed total sales figures for all downtown businesses. So, it is wrong to suggest the downtown area represents the center or core of Lawrence retailing.
If the county is likely to have a 25 percent population growth in the next 17 years, where will the retail businesses be located to accommodate this growth? If it isn't handled in some sound, reasonable manner, the city will lose even more sales to retail facilities in nearby Kansas City and Topeka stores.
CAN DOWNTOWN be enlarged to allow more and larger stores? A few years ago developers wanted to build a major malled facility in the 700 and 800 blocks of Massachusetts Street, with the development along the east side of Massachusetts and extending east to the Rhode Island Street area.
Some merchants opposed the project, so they said, because it would eliminate the ``historic'' and ``picturesque'' facades on many of the stores along the east side of Massachusetts, while a number of residents in the East Lawrence area did not like the idea of more traffic being funneled onto Rhode Island and Connecticut streets.
The developers then worked out a plan whereby many of the facades would be retained, but the merchants still opposed the idea of a downtown mall.
Where can the downtown area be expanded to provide good, attractive sites for additional and larger retail facilities, along with the parking needs for such stores? The business district is not going to invade Buford Watson Park; Old West Lawrence residents will fight any efforts to expand the downtown business district into their area and the same is true among East Lawrence residents who are opposed to retail business moving into their neighborhood.
A NEW FACTORY outlet facility is scheduled to be built near the East Lawrence Kansas Turnpike entrance and this probably will spur improvement of businesses along North Second Street, but it is unlikely this trafficway will become a major retail area.
So, where do the anticipated 25 percent more residents shop? What happens to shopping habits if the Clinton administration is able to impose a 50-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline? Will Lawrence residents continue to spend millions of dollars in Topeka and Kansas City, or will they demand that city officials acknowledge the need for additional retail facilities in Lawrence?
As noted earlier, Lawrence residents and city officials should be able to solve most any challenge. But for some reason or other, city officials have been unable to come up with a reasonable and practical answer to where new, large retail developments can take place.
AN INCREASED number of residents is almost a certainty. Will the city be prepared to handle this growth, not only in new schools and improved new trafficways, but also in new shopping areas, to meet the needs of the growing Lawrence and Lawrence area population?
It's a nice challenge to face, and one that needs forward-looking policies by city officials.