The wait may soon be over for the city to begin enjoying its 150th birthday present.
The Lawrence Sesquicentennial Commission is scheduled to present a check for at least $200,000 to city commissioners tonight as seed money to begin building a plaza at Sesquicentennial Point.
The donation will mark a milestone for the committee, which began its work in November 1999, and has been championing the idea of the 97-acre community park below the Clinton Lake Dam and northwest of the city's off-leash dog park. It is a check that Clenece Hills, chairwoman of the committee, said the community should take great satisfaction in.
"I think we should all take great pride in caring enough about the history of this community to mark it the way that we have," Hills said. "Not every community does this."
Fred DeVictor, the city's director of parks and recreation, said the money should be enough for the city to start and complete construction of a two- to three-acre plaza, three large earth berms each representing 50 years of the community's history, and a "Walkway through Time."
The walkway, which will connect the plaza with a time capsule that was buried during last year's sesquicentennial celebrations, features engraved stones from each of the city's 150 years. Some of the stones - measuring about one feet by four feet - have been purchased by area businesses, families or organizations who have had their names engraved in the stones.
- 6News video: Construction of Sesquicentennial Point to start soon (09-12-05)
- Fund drive nearing its end point (06-27-05)
- City making progress toward historic goal (04-04-05)
- 6News video: Sesquicentennial Commission halfway to fundraising goal (04-03-05)
- City's focus turns from past to future (09-20-04)
- History, future intersect at Sesquicentennial Point (07-26-04)
- More stories about the sesquicentennial
DeVictor said construction on the project could get started in 2006, depending on how long final design work takes.
"This is exciting because much like Centennial Park was in 1954, this will be a lasting gift that people will enjoy in our community forever," DeVictor said.
Centennial Park is between Sixth and Ninth streets on the east side of Rockledge Road.
Hills said donations were still coming in, so she did not yet have an exact total that she'll present to commissioners But she said it may fall short of the $300,000 fundraising goal that the committee had set.
"This will need to be an ongoing project, but I think we have gotten it off to a really good start," Hills said.
Hills said she hoped people would continue to donate to the project through the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department, and that it ultimately would be completed with a 5,000 seat amphitheater.
"I really hope this becomes a major gathering place for the community," said Hills, who envisions future fireworks displays and maybe even hot air balloon rallies staged at the park. "I have nothing against South Park - I love South Park - but I think there are a lot of larger events that would come to Lawrence if we had a larger gathering space."
DeVictor said he supports the idea of an amphitheater, but there's currently no room in the city budget for the estimated $1.5 million project. Hills said for that portion of the park to become reality, it likely will take another public fundraising drive.
The park also needs a road that would take visitors to the top of the hill and lead to a 40-space parking lot. Currently, there's a small gravel parking lot where people can park and walk to the top of the hill.
DeVictor said he'll seek city commission direction on whether the department should use money from its budget to build the approximately $120,000 road and parking lot.
DeVictor said even without a road or an amphitheater, he thought the park would be a significant addition to the community.
"Really, the most important thing in my mind is the preservation of the view from that site," DeVictor said. "It is just breathtaking from that location. From that site you can see all across the valley, you can see Blue Mound, you can see the water in the lake. That view will always be there now."
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. tonight at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.