Archive for Wednesday, September 10, 1997


September 10, 1997


Lawrence city commissioners will consider keeping an expanded Lawrence Arts Center downtown.

Others may have given up, but Lawrence city commissioners aren't ready to surrender plans for expanding the Lawrence Arts Center downtown.

Tuesday night, commissioners considered a request from the center's board of directors to allow construction of a new, $5 million center on 8.3 acres of city land at the southwest corner of North Iowa Street and Peterson Road.

But the commissioners didn't act. Instead, they decided to consider two options during a study session Oct. 1:

  • Expand the center at the current site, the former Carnegie Library, 200 W. Ninth. The building is listed as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Build a new center at an alternate location, either behind the Hallmark Cards plant, as proposed, or at Centennial Park, southeast of Sixth Street and Rockledge Road.

Commissioner John Nalbandian, for one, is preparing for battle to keep the arts center -- and its 95,000 annual visitors -- in the downtown area.

Despite opposition from preservationists, neighborhood groups and owners of adjacent properties, Nalbandian wants to fight to keep a valuable community asset in an area where people can enjoy it.

"I'm prepared to be part of that parade, and I'm prepared to get up near the front if that's what it takes," said Nalbandian, who led the recent fight to locate a Borders bookstore downtown.

Marilyn Dobski, vice president of the arts center's board, said the center had been working on expansion plans for a decade and needed to move on. Downtown always has been the preferred location, but recent public meetings made it clear that interest groups would never agree about a downtown expansion.

"The last thing I want to do is prolong the process ... but if they want to fight the fight ... that would be our preference," Dobski said.

As proposed, the arts center would be built on city property behind the Hallmark plant, covering about 30,000 square feet and including a performance hall, exhibition galleries, arts-based preschool classrooms and other features, including room for future expansion.

The city would contribute $3 million toward the new building, which would be owned by the city. The center would collect $2 million in donations for the project.

Betty Banks, 302 Glenview, doesn't want any part of it. The area is a "physical and industrial wasteland," she said, where semi trucks serve industries and gang problems recently surfaced. A lack of public transportation also would limit participation.

"It will become an elitist facility," she said, "or simply be abandoned by the public."

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