Developing the downtown business district by building up seems like a reasonable alternative to expanding into surrounding neighborhoods, three Lawrence city commissioners say.
The commissioners were reacting to a Lawrence Chamber of Commerce task force's proposals for maintaining the economic vitality of downtown Lawrence.
The proposal, drafted over the past 18 months by the chamber's Downtown Development Task Force, generally calls for expanding the boundaries of downtown.
The task force also recommended increasing the mix of offerings downtown and improving traffic access and parking.
Leaders of Lawrence neighborhood groups said they were leery of the proposals, considering how downtown is so tightly contained by the Kansas River, parks and established neighborhoods.
"We do have a pretty natural containment area," said Commissioner Bob Schumm. "What we have to do is use our imaginations. We may have to move up, instead of flat like a pancake."
TO SOLVE the space problem, for example, Schumm suggested building a structure with a parking facility on the first floor and some kind of retail development on top.
"All over the country, there are developments on the second and third floors of buildings," Commissioner John Nalbandian said. "We don't have that here. "If we agree that downtown needs to be expanded, we not only have an outward option but an upward option.''
Schumm and Nalbandian said they favored creating apartment buildings on the outskirts of downtown that could act as buffers between businesses and residences, and also bring more dollars to downtown businesses.
"The more people that have to use downtown, the more people are going to naturally shop downtown," Nalbandian said.
MAYOR BOB WALTERS and Commissioner Bob Schulte said there was plenty of room to develop downtown within the existing boundaries.
Schulte mentioned the stretch of New Hampshire Street between Seventh and Eleventh Streets as a prime area for redevelopment.
Walters also said he would be interested in seeing downtown developments taller than two or three stories the height of most buildings downtown if the projects were "compatible with the fabric of downtown."
Building up is just common sense, Walters said.
"You have to ask that if you don't want to intrude on the neighborhoods, what are you going to do?"
Nalbandian said talk of bulldozing residences to put up new businesses or parking lots would not be constructive.
"I don't think that anybody is interested in expanding out into the neighborhoods," Nalbandian said. "It's so far-fetched. Look at all the attention that was given in planning the Eastern Parkway and keeping private homes from being affected."
PEACEFUL coexistence with surrounding neighborhoods is vital to the success of downtown, Schumm said.
"Our neighborhoods give Lawrence that nice, small-town feeling, and a hearty downtown keeps the neighborhoods strong," Schumm said.
Schumm, Nalbandian and Walters didn't rule out completely the concept of developing in existing neighborhoods. "Every project must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis," Schumm said.
The commissioners also cautioned that the task force report is still in its early stages and hasn't been officially presented to the commission.
The leaders of the task force have said the proposals may change once they solicit input from the public.
Commissioner Shirley Martin-Smith said she was waiting to hear input from planning experts and the public before forming an opinion on the proposals.
"It's up to the community, not me, to decide what's best," she said.