A public hearing Feb. 23 will be the first regulatory step in creating a $17.9 million downtown redevelopment project known as Downtown 2000.
Expanding a downtown littered with shabby signs, empty light fixtures and planter boxes strewn with spent cigarette butts is no way to invest nearly $10 million in public tax money, David Holroyd says.
And he's got the pictures to prove it.
"Downtown's a slum," said Holroyd, who owns property near downtown and brought blown-up photos of Massachusetts Street's uncleanliness Tuesday night to city hall. "If the property owners aren't going to clean up the fronts of their businesses, why should the taxpayers pay more money to help Massachusetts Street?"
Ask Bob Schumm, a downtown business owner and former mayor, and he'll tell you: Without Downtown 2000, a proposed redevelopment project for a block of New Hampshire Street, downtown property values could erode, sales could decrease and blight could develop.
The investment of public money is more than worth it, he said. It's imperative.
"We should wholeheartedly embrace it," Schumm said. "This is one fine project ... that is really downtown Lawrence, and I would urge you to support it."
Holroyd, Schumm and the rest of their 80,000 fellow Lawrence residents have until Feb. 23 to mull the issue themselves, as Lawrence city commissioners prepare to create a conservation district that would enable private developers and city officials to team up for the $17.9 million reconstruction project along New Hampshire Street.
Downtown 2000 would revamp both sides of New Hampshire from Ninth to 10th streets, excluding the Salvation Army. The new area would create a new version of Massachusetts Street by building 63,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, 26,000 square feet of upstairs offices and 24 loft-style apartments.
The project would be unlike Massachusetts, however, in that it also would have a four-level, 616-space parking garage with the top three levels being set aside for public use.
Much of the public improvements would be backed by tax money: $2.7 million directly from the city, and another $7 million from new tax revenues generated by the project.
The hearing to create a conservation district -- a formality that would allow for $7 million in tax-increment financing -- would be conducted during the commission's regular meeting on Feb. 23 at city hall, Sixth and Massachusetts.
The project's developers are looking forward to putting their proposal to the test.
"It has been put together from thousands of ideas from hundreds of people," said Jeff Shmalberg, one of four partners in 9-10 L.C., which plans to pour $8.2 million of private money into the project. "This is another chance for input."
Among the suggestions Tuesday night: Provide "shallow" retail space along the front of the parking structure, to bolster a pedestrian feel for New Hampshire; and incorporate a statue into the site, to honor recruits who died there during Quantrill's raid.
Downtown Lawrence Inc. and the Lawrence Preservation Alliance both support the project.
-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.