If the Lawrence area is to start work on two or three new business parks within the next decade, RoxAnne Miller figures the community can rally around another high-visibility project: a pedestrian bridge across the Kansas River.
And Douglas County taxpayers could be asked to pay more in sales taxes to finance them all.
The bridge, estimated to cost $1.5 million, is part of $2.35 million in projects Miller proposed Monday to preserve, protect and promote open space in Douglas County.
The projects are being recommended by ECO2, a task force appointed by Lawrence and Douglas County commissioners to come up with plans to satisfy the needs of two efforts that traditionally have been at odds: preservation of open space and establishment of business parks.
Miller, chairwoman of ECO2, is counting on the bridge project to serve as a prominent example of how the two interests could work together. The project would increase interest in the importance of protecting the banks, habitats and wildlife that live along the rivers, she said, while also drawing visitors from outside the community to spend money at businesses in town.
"It's a bridge that connects the two," Miller said, after unveiling the concept during a Monday afternoon meeting of the Douglas County Economic Development Board.
Board members discussed the project and heard from Lawrence and Douglas County officials about possible options for financing. Although no decisions were made, two options dominated the discussion:
¢ Ask county voters to approve a quarter-cent countywide sales tax, which would be estimated to generate about $3 million a year for business parks and open space.
Recommendations for projects, and total costs for each, that would preserve and promote open space in Douglas County, as proposed by ECO2: ¢ Two Rivers Trail, connecting Kansas and Wakarusa rivers along former railroad tracks. $5 million. ¢ Black Jack Battlefield, acquiring and enhancing site touted as birthplace of the Civil War, nearly five years before shots were fired in 1861 at Fort Sumter. $1.7 million. ¢ Prairie Project, preserving and enhancing 150 acres near Lone Star Lake. $1 million. ¢ Baldwin Woods, adding a 100-acre buffer alongside 1,000 acres of white oak and hickory forest near Baldwin. $300,000.
¢ Rely on local governments to issue general-obligation bonds - backed by property taxes - to finance project costs, of which some would be repaid as lots in business parks were sold.
But Miller, who also works as director of the Kansas Land Trust, said that the focus should remain on the project, not the costs.
"Even though we've talked about a lot of numbers, nothing has been written in stone," she said.
The bridge, as proposed, would cross the Kaw near North Eighth and Oak streets in North Lawrence, then join a trail that would follow abandoned railroad tracks through East Lawrence until connecting with an existing "rails-to-trails" path along the east side of Haskell Indian Nations University.
The project - dubbed the "Two Rivers Trail" - would end at the edge of the Wakarusa River, where it could lead to development of a future trail reaching all the way to Eudora, then winding back to Lawrence along the Kaw.
The key, Miller said, is to understand that investing $1.5 million into the bridge portion of the project likely would lead to grants and other sources of revenues for the remaining $3.5 million needed to acquire land, pour concrete and cover other costs.
The spending would go along with financing for three other projects - enhancement of Black Jack Battlefield near Baldwin, protection for a 150-acre prairie near Lone Star Lake and addition of a buffer to a 1,000-acre forest near Baldwin - that are being developed in tandem with plans for up to three new business parks.
Here are the locations being considered for potential business parks, including cost estimates for getting 200 acres at each site ready for development (excluding land acquisition or environmental clean-up expenses:
¢ The site of the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant along Kansas Highway 10 at the southeastern edge of Lawrence, $7.5 million.
¢ Land near Lawrence Municipal Airport, north of the Kansas Turnpike, $9.2 million.
¢ Land being mulled for residential or industrial development, generally east of the Douglas County Jail, $6.5 million.
Board members plan to discuss the projects again during a meeting in September. A date has not been set.