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Archive for Saturday, January 11, 1992

SATURDAY COLUMN

January 11, 1992

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It's time to stop the name-calling and start the new year with a positive, forward-looking approach to Lawrence's "downtown" question and the future retail needs of the city.

A week ago, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce officials released details of a Chamber task force report on the downtown retail situation. One major recommendation in the report was that downtown Lawrence needs to be expanded significantly if it is to remain a vibrant, successful business center.

THAT TRIGGERED immediate reaction from various special interest groups. It is understandable why these groups are concerned about the report, as "neighborhood" interest groups bordering the current downtown want to protect their areas and "downtown" merchant interest groups have a very large stake in what happens in the retailing scene. Major new retailers, either in a downtown location or at a suburban site, could and would have a significant impact on present retailers. And, this impact could be good or bad, depending on where and how retail expansion is handled.

It is hoped, however, that name-calling can be held to a minimum and that the Chamber report will encourage a fair-minded, objective analysis of the retail situation in Lawrence. Anyone, including individual citizens, can (and many individuals do) belong to the Chamber by paying a minimal fee. It is not a closed, secret organization and it probably is the most representative body of the city's commercial-business interests.

THERE ARE several facts which should not be subject to much debate:

If the Chamber report suggests the downtown area should be expanded to accommodate more retail development, it is difficult to understand how this growth or expansion of current downtown boundaries can be accomplished without encroaching on nearby residential areas.

On the other hand, if there is the desire to encourage a major retailer to locate in Lawrence, in the downtown area, without any encroachment into residential areas, then city officials as well as current downtown property owners and those concerned about historical matters are going to have to be willing to tear down current businesses to make room for a sizable store and a sizable parking lot.

If a major retailer is needed for the sound commercial development of the city, and to meet the needs of the growing population, where should it be located?

THE CITY CANNOT afford another 10 to 15 years of debate and lack of action. If a downtown site for a major retailer cannot be found or agreed upon by the various city, neighborhood and retail interests, then it would seem reasonable to select the best possible site in a suburban location.

Lawrence cannot afford to stand still, whether in its industrial growth, improvement in the excellence of its schools, development of job opportunities, in its housing facilities, in its community services, or in its retail development.

Name-calling, and selfish interests, are not going to help. Let's try to make 1992 the year that all Lawrence interests pulled together for the genuine betterment and improvement of the city. The competition in today's business environment is intense and Lawrence cannot afford splintered groups and narrow thinking to handicap what should be a great future for the city.

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