David Longhurst takes pride in Lawrence's downtown, and plans to keep working hard to keep it that way.
Local leaders consider downtown to be the heartbeat of Lawrence, and David Longhurst wants to make sure it keeps on pumping.
Longhurst, president of Downtown Lawrence Inc. (DLI), continues to monitor the city's historical lifeline on numerous fronts, whether it's surveying downtown's parking availability, assessing the expansion of its Lawrence Arts Center, questioning commercial development on the city's fringes or simply showing up for work each day at the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza Factory Outlets.
When it comes to downtown, Longhurst never lets up.
``I care about it. I just care about it,'' he said last week, in his office in the mall along the Kansas River. ``When you care, you do everything you can to help.''
Longhurst's call to action takes on many forms, but perhaps his most visible role comes as president of DLI, an advocacy group of 160 members and businesses in the downtown area. The group often speaks on behalf of the 600 businesses and residents in the 16-block area.
Longhurst has been at the organization's helm for three years now, and has been involved in issues ranging from increasing property appraisals to dwindling parking supplies to an influx of national retailers and controversy over preservation of historic buildings.
Through it all, Longhurst knows the diversity of opinion and passion behind each argument speak well for downtown and its future. It shows that people care.
``Downtown is not invulnerable,'' Longhurst said. ``You've got to keep your eye on the ball. You cannot just assume that because it's OK today it will be OK in the future.''
Evolving to survive
Downtown's future is evolving, much as it has since Lawrence was founded 140 years ago. Longhurst still remembers when car lots occupied downtown street corners, instead of bookstores, restaurants and a variety of specialty shops.
Today, a number of national retailers are lining up to squeeze into the central business district, following the lead of The Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch and Borders Books & Music.
He manages the riverfront mall, which opened in 1990. Today, the mall includes 35 stores as well as river-level office space.
Like the mall's business climate -- slowly moving from outlet shops to office space -- downtown's evolution is striving not only for optimum use, but also mere survival.
``It's not static,'' he said. ``It changes. It's responded to the times. And downtown's more appealing today than it was 20 years ago.''
Downtown's unique character and historic environment -- owner-operated stores with one-of-a-kind products and personal services -- help set the district apart from other commercial areas in town, Longhurst said. And he knows a bit about putting unique structures to good use.
`It's like home'
Longhurst grew up in Corrales, N.M., a small, culturally rich town about 20 miles outside Albuquerque. His family lived in a 300-year-old adobe home that once served as the home of the Spanish territorial governor.
A few years ago Longhurst returned to find that his former home had become a restaurant, and that one of his bedrooms had been converted into a bar.
Such developments might seem odd, Longhurst acknowledges, but he knows they are worthwhile. In downtown
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Lawrence, Teller's restaurant converted a bank vault into a bathroom.
People respond well to one-of-a-kind offerings, he said.
``They don't feel intimidated downtown,'' Longhurst said. ``The architecture is not intimidating. It's inviting. It's part of that Main Street U.S.A. America sense. ...
``It's like home.''
Longhurst has made his home in Lawrence for the past 30 years, after leaving the U.S. Marines and heading to work for the family printing shop, The House of Usher. He owned the business and operated downtown for 12 years at 838 Mass., until selling it about 10 years ago.
Longhurst served as Lawrence's mayor from 1983 to 1984, and served on the Lawrence City Commission from 1983 to 1987.
Today, he serves on the boards of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, the Douglas County Historical Society and the Salvation Army. He's a member of the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Board, as well as a member of the Mayor's Arts Center Advisory Committee.
In between all the meetings and phone calls, Longhurst enjoys spending time with his family: his wife, Nancy; two sons, John and Harrison; a daughter, Natalie; and grandson, Augie. His mother, Joan, also lives in Lawrence.
In a larger sense, downtown is Longhurst's extended family. At times he's a father figure, at times a baby sitter, but most of all he's a concerned family member who is proud to watch the business district grow up strong and healthy.
``You don't have to apologize for fighting for downtown,'' Longhurst said. ``Our downtown is special.''
-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.