A Lawrence Chamber of Commerce task force that has focused on downtown development for more than a year has concluded that downtown Lawrence needs to be significantly expanded if it is to remain the primary regional commercial center of the community.
"In order for downtown Lawrence to maintain its economic vitality in a growing community, we'll have to make the downtown more competititive," said Gary Toebben, the chamber's president.
"You can't expect the existing businesses downtown to serve the needs of the entire community."
In its final report, which calls downtown the heart of the Lawrence community, the task force says, ``. . . the general recommendations in this report must be initiated without delay.''
THOSE recommendations include:
Expanding the boundaries of the central business district to accommodate commercial and residential development.
Establishing a new zoning classification to encourage an expanded central business district and new opportunities for downtown development.
Studying the formation of a downtown redevelopment corporation to acquire, hold and redevelop property.
Building the Eastern Parkway as quickly as possible.
Improving Ninth Street between Iowa and Emery Road to a four-lane road and adding a center turn lane to Sixth Street, between Tennessee and Maine streets.
Adding downtown parking facilities.
The task force also says that construction of residential, multi-density housing, such as apartments, should be encouraged as a buffer between downtown and residential neighborhoods.
WITH ITS recommendations endorsed by the boards of both the chamber and Downtown Lawrence Inc., the task force now wants DLI and neighborhood organizations to joint the chamber in a coalition to discuss the ideas contained in the proposal and formally bring it before the Lawrence City Commission, as early as this spring.
"The city will have primary responsibility for a number of items, zoning certainly, to take the lead on the parking and the access issues," Toebben said.
Bob Georgeson, chairman of the chamber's Downtown Development Task Force, said the task force report, which was developed in meetings over the past 18 months, has not been considered public up to this point.
The task force has scheduled a meeting Thursday with Downtown Lawrence to map a strategy for forming the coalition. That meeting will not be open to the public, Georgeson said.
"WHAT WE need now is to start community discussion. The chamber's has been a private effort," Georgeson said.
"I see this now as a series of public meetings. The chamber will become one member of the coalition."
Myles Schachter, a member of both the task force and the Downtown Lawrence board, said the coalition is intended to be a forum for discussing the needs of neighborhoods near downtown and options for implementing the plan without compromising those residential areas.
"It is hoped that we could have downtown growth while minimizing the effect on neighborhoods," he said.
Georgeson said it seemed logical for the chamber to initiate the process by forming the task force, which he sees as a starting point for public action on downtown.
"You can't do it without the chamber's support," he said.
"The idea was to get the chamber's support, form a coalition and (let the city) write a master plan."
HOWEVER, Georgeson said that before the task force got to the point of writing the proposal, the chamber board had to decide its positions on basic downtown issues. The task force's initial work was to make recommendations to the board about Horizon 2020, the new guide plan being developed by the city.
"The real issue has been the chamber's position on whether we repeat in Horizon 2020 what we had in Plan 95 on downtown," he said, noting that the chamber board has decided to support retaining downtown as the city's central business district.
More than 50 chamber members were members of the task force, which was formed in June 1990. The task force was divided into four subcommittees that studied four separate areas of concern: access to downtown, land availability, parking and the mix of offerings in downtown.
SEVERAL city officials participated in the task force's meetings. City Commissioner Bob Schumm was a member of the group, as was Diane Mullins, a member of the city planning staff. City Manager Mike Wildgen and Assistant City Manager Rod Bremby participated in some meetings.
Georgeson said that although the proposal makes some recommendations for change and improvement, the document purposely does not contain a definitive outline for downtown redevelopment. He said that some members of the task force had more specific ideas about how downtown should be enhanced and that while some of those ideas were incorporated or alluded to in the proposal, the task force sought to keep its recommendations general.
If such a plan were developed, he said, "It's something the coalition should decide, not the chamber."
GEORGESON said the task force's proposal is open to change once the coalition begins generating public input.
"The coalition may change it totally," he said. "The city may say we don't want to do it."
"It's one thing to talk about doing it, it's another thing to look at the people who are affected," he said.
Georgeson emphasized that the task force was not proposing any encroachment on surrounding residential neighborhoods.
"Intrusion into the neighborhoods? No. The idea that we're going to build Kmart in East Lawrence? No. I don't know anyone who's in favor of that," he said.