Lawrence's mayor looks forward to "good things" downtown in the coming years, thanks to a plan now under way.
For Mayor John Nalbandian, the next 12 months will go a long way toward shaping the future of downtown Lawrence.
Where weeks of planning will lead for the next 25 years remains up in the air, but Nalbandian sure knows what the city's central business district should not become.
"If it turns downtown into low-grade restaurants and tattoo parlors, we've lost a substantial asset," he said.
Nalbandian, a professor of public administration at Kansas University, is taking an academic approach to addressing the future of downtown. At his suggestion, the city has hired professional help, invited individual input and planned for public participation.
In the end -- by August at the earliest, next April at the latest -- downtown's redevelopment guide will provide a way to plan, decide and execute public and private involvement in projects downtown, he said.
"I fully believe that this is more than just a document that's going to guide people," he said. "I believe it's an action document. In 10 years, when you look back, you'll look at the downtown and you'll be able to see good things, and you'll be able to say this is because we had a plan."
The plan will touch on more than a dozen issues affecting downtown. Among them: downtown's boundaries, parking designs, mixed land uses, architectural standards, possibilities for national retailers, financial alternatives and market influences.
"I hope downtown is always a place that people want to bring their friends and visitors -- not only to show them, but to get out and walk around," he said. "It gives people a sense of community. It's a place where everybody in the community can come to, regardless of whether they live in east Lawrence or west Lawrence or south Lawrence or North Lawrence.
"The downtown is an attraction. It's a place where you come and take pride in."
To wade through issues affecting downtown, Nalbandian has appointed himself and nine community members -- including two KU professors -- to a steering committee that will advise Gould Evans Associates, the city's downtown consultant.
"It will get us a lot closer than where we are today," Nalbandian said. "Today, we're in a position of pretty much kind of letting things happen, and then responding to them when they do happen. And I don't think we can afford to do that anymore, because there's too much pressure to develop on the outskirts of town.
"If that happens, it potentially jeopardizes the viability of downtown."
For the second consecutive year, the business district has rated as a top priority for Lawrence city commissioners. For Nalbandian, the area generally bordered by Sixth, 11th, New Hampshire and Vermont streets holds special significance.
He considers downtown the heart of the community, and his prime goal for his second commission term has been preserving Lawrence's community feel.
"The city has become large enough that we have to pay attention to the issues and decisions that will create common purpose, and the downtown is one of those integrating elements of this community," Nalbandian said.
"We can use the planning of facilities and places to help bring people together. That's not going to be the answer, but we have to make sure that we don't sacrifice them as we grow."