The Lawrence Arts Center's expansion and renovation project faces some roadblocks.
Fund-raising for the $5.8 million Lawrence Arts Center renovation and expansion project is on hold until officials can determine whether to build to the west or to the north.
"It (the delay) means the cost of the project is going up and there is a limit to what we can do," said Ann Evans, executive director of the 20-year-old arts center. "We've got to get this done soon or rethink what we're going to do."
Evans said a site study committee met over a period of about four months to investigate the advantages and disadvantages of expanding to the west and north.
"They didn't make a final decision. They made a report," she said. "They found both ways to be feasible, but it is not prudent to go north because of the financial cost."
To the north is Vermont Street Station, commercial property that includes offices for a dentist, an optometrist and an accountant. To the west are six rental or unoccupied houses.
The property value to the west is listed at $1 million, 100 percent more that its appraisal in 1993, according to Evans. The property to the north is not for sale and has an acquisition price of $2.9 million. Douglas County officials have appraised the northern property at $359,000.
Evans said there has been some talk about moving the arts center from the city-owned, historic Carnegie Library building at 200 W. Ninth -- a move she definitely opposes.
"We could get a lot more for the same money to the west (side of the city)," she said. "I have an attitude about serving the public, and I sincerely believe (being downtown) is the key to why all kinds of people come in here."
During its first year of operation, about 4,000 people participated in the arts center's programs. Last year, the total reached 95,000.
Another setback to the project has been the opposition by the Historic Resources Commission, which voted in mid-March to recommend denial of a preliminary site plan. The recommendation goes to the city commission for the final word.
Then Mayor Bob Moody said the commission must decide if it's willing "to buy into" the LAC project.
"We've spent an awful lot of money, and I'm concerned about our long-term indebtedness and the revenues to pay it off," Moody said. "There is no dearth to the projects that want funding."
According to the renovation and expansion plans, the Carnegie Library building will remain the architectural focal point of the arts center.
But these changes will be made:
- West addition (15,300 square feet) -- a community performance hall with wood shop, costume shop and dressing rooms; a public gathering space and gallery; an off-street dropoff for children and students; a clay studio; and painting and writing classrooms.
- North addition -- arts-based preschool classrooms with outdoor play area; dance, theater and music classrooms; exhibition galleries; climate-controlled, secure exhibition and collection storage; and office for community arts agencies.
- Renovation of existing building (10,300 square feet) -- art classrooms; a darkroom; a sales gallery; an information services area; staff offices and a workroom; new electrical and plumbing systems; improved access and accommodations for individuals with disabilities; window replacements; and retaining wall repairs.
In addition to its arts-based preschool, the arts center is home to the Prairie Wind Dancers, Summer Youth Theatre and the Seem-to-be-Players.
So far, the Lawrence Arts Center has raised about $1.5 million toward the $5.8 million project, Evans said.
Sallie Mae kicked off the fund-raising campaign in mid-September with a $150,000 donation in honor of the company's 10th anniversary in Lawrence.
In October, William T. Kemper Foundation-Commerce Bank jumped onto the giving bandwagon by issuing a $150,000 challenge grant.
"We don't make many challenge grants," Michael Fields, executive director of Kemper Foundation-Commerce Bank, said at the time. "We made it on the condition they can reach their goal by October 1997. We feel confident they will raise the money."
Hallmark followed suit that month and donated $450,000 toward the project. The pledge was one of the largest gifts ever given by Hallmark outside of its corporate home of Kansas City, Mo.
Capitol Federal Savings handed over a $30,000 donation in late November and Dillon Stores pledged $30,000 in mid-December. The remainder of the donations have come from individuals, families, businesses and other agencies.
Despite the bumpy road, Evans is confident the arts center will break ground as planned in 1997.
"It will end up working out and everything will be great, but we have a few hurdles right now," she said. " ... And as it keeps going on, the prices keep going up."