City staffers will sculpt several possibilities for financing most of a proposed $5.8 million expansion of the Lawrence Arts Center.
The Lawrence Arts center needs another $4.3 million to expand, and its supporters want city taxpayers to pick up the tab.
During a study session with Lawrence city commissioners Wednesday, center officials formally asked the city to commit up to $4.3 million toward the estimated $5.8 million expansion project.
The 20-year-old center, located in a former city library at 200 W. Ninth, needs more room to properly serve the 95,000 visitors it receives each year, said Ann Evans, the center's executive director.
Center officials already have received nearly $1.5 million in grants, gifts and donations for the expansion, and Evans said she thought they could generate at least another $300,000.
She's confident commissioners will come up with the balance somehow.
"It's a wonderful project, we have tons of support and we live in a community that values the arts," she said. "I'm optimistic. It's going to happen."
Mayor John Nalbandian and other commissioners agreed to have staffers investigate possible alternatives for financing the project, which is in a city building.
Nalbandian said he wouldn't support an increase in property taxes but could envision a way to increase spending by relying on anticipated increases in the city's valuation.
The city now sets aside $3 million a year for major construction projects. The total could be boosted to $4 million, Nalbandian said, leaving $1 million a year for a phased approach.
"Before you can commit to spending money, you have to know what revenues you have," he said.
But Commissioner Bob Moody sounded a more cautious tone, given that the city already has poured millions of dollars into new recreation projects. On Tuesday night, for example, commissioners agreed to spend $3.72 million for a new golf course despite its ranking as a "moderate priority" in the city's own parks and recreation master plan.
Now the arts center is feeling the squeeze, he said, despite being a worthy project.
"What we're doing is we're putting our priorities bass-ackwards," he said.
Commissioners asked for the financial alternatives to be ready for discussion within a month.
The expansion would extend west from the current center, with space for a new performance hall, classrooms, studios, galleries, a darkroom, offices and other features. In 1992, officials estimated the cost at $4.8 million.
The expansion also would require removal of six residences from the northeast corner of Ninth and Kentucky streets. If the project moves ahead as planned -- and the city acquires the necessary land or expansion -- Evans wouldn't want the homes destroyed.
"Somebody could have a house for free if they pay to move the house," she said.