A downtown communications tower would be converted for use this summer by Southwestern Bell Wireless, under a plan awaiting review at city hall.
Downtown's obsolete microwave tower is about to get new life.
Southwestern Bell Wireless, in Lenexa, plans to install four, 12-foot-tall antennas atop its parent company's downtown microwave tower to boost the coverage area for cellular phones.
The new antennas, called "whips," would add to the height of the brick-facade tower, which already rises 155 feet above 706 Vt.
"The tower is an architectural landmark in Lawrence," said Adrienne Kastens, manager of public relations and promotions for Southwestern Bell Wireless. "We're recycling it."
The matter is scheduled for review Feb. 19 by the city's Historic Resources Commission, to make sure the changes wouldn't disturb the historic character of the nearby Eldridge Hotel, a landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The changes aren't expected to alter the tower significantly, but that doesn't mean people won't take notice of the wireless company's plans, said Dennis Enslinger, the city's historic resources administrator.
"It's a visual landmark," he said. "People identify it as being in the Lawrence skyline."
The tower itself made history in the late '70s, when it stirred debate about the visual character of downtown Lawrence. The telephone company said the tower was necessary for continued high-quality long-distance service, but others worried it might blight public and private investments intended to beautify the northern end of downtown.
Today those same discussions surround other cellular communications towers. A new 150-foot pole installed southwest of 23rd Street and Naismith Drive drew opposition from neighbors -- who were concerned about aesthetics, safety and declining property values -- but industry representatives successfully testified that proper service could not be provided without it.
Fred Sherman, a city planner who helped devise local standards for communications towers, said Southwestern Bell Wireless' application met the community's intended goals. Before building any new towers, companies are supposed to look for existing structures first -- flagpoles, church steeples, water towers or even out-of-date microwave towers.
The microwave tower -- which ceased operations last summer -- fits the bill.
"That means they're not building a new tower, and we want to encourage that," said Sherman, who noted that local residents drive the need for cellular services. "That is good."
Price Banks, a local attorney for Southwestern Bell Wireless, knows that not everyone wants to see the tower reused. A local web site, www.larryville.com, even includes a "Tear Down the Communications Tower!" section, complete with a write-in poll, public comments bulletin board and photos of what the city's skyline would look like without the "hideous George Jetsonesque eyesore."
But the company's proposal offers an excellent way to gain positive use out of an expensive structure, Banks said. He noted that the city required that the tower be covered with brick as a condition of its approval.
Paul Wrablica, real estate manager for Southwestern Bell Wireless, said the company planned to attach the new antennas to the peak of the tower sometime this summer.
"As far as the average person driving by, they won't be distracting," Wrablica said. "Most people won't even notice them."
-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.