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Archive for Saturday, September 17, 2005

Carnegie tenant search may be restarted

September 17, 2005


Nearly one and a half years after choosing an upstart literacy group to occupy the vacant Carnegie Library building, city commissioners are having second thoughts.

Commissioners at their meeting Tuesday night will discuss reopening the search for a tenant for the historic building at Ninth and Vermont streets.

That prospect rankles at least one commissioner who said the city should stand behind its April 2004 decision to allow the start-up Langston Hughes Center to occupy the building.

"I don't quite understand the flip-flopping that we seem to have going on here," City Commissioner Mike Rundle said. "We had the original proposals, and the Hughes-Carnegie Center came out well above the other candidates.

"I think we have been putting those community volunteers through the wringer by not making the commitment we should to allow it to take off."

But Mayor Boog Highberger said it may be time to begin looking at other options for the former library, which was home to the Lawrence Arts Center until it moved to a new location in 2002. The building has been empty ever since and needs approximately $900,000 worth of renovations before it could be occupied.

Highberger said there was concern that the Hughes center - which would promote literacy efforts and the humanities - had not had much luck raising money or attracting grants.

"When we started this process, one of the city's criteria was to minimize the cost to the city," Highberger said. "We were not really interested in starting a project that would require a large amount of city funding."

Center organizers in February presented a budget that would have required $145,000 from the city to pay for operation expenses.

Highberger also said there was a sentiment that the center could be included in future plans for an expanded Lawrence Public Library.

Since commissioners made their decision on the Carnegie last year, a new potential tenant has emerged. Representatives of the Americana Music Academy, 1419 Mass., have said they would like to move the nonprofit business into the building, which would provide it more room to provide music lessons and display the area's music history.

"I think that project does have some appeal," Highberger said. "But I'm not going to prejudge it before we see what other ideas are out there."

Organizers of the Hughes center said they likely would resubmit their proposal to city commissioners, if the process is reopened. But Reta Cosby, an organizer of the center, said the idea for the Hughes Center would survive even if it is not granted access to the building.

"We're about an ideal for the community; we're about community enrichment," Cosby said. "Our efforts are not housed in a building."

City commissioners last month agreed to hire Lawrence-based GLPM Architects to do about $70,000 worth of interior design work on the building. The renovations - which would include a new elevator, restrooms and a variety of mechanical and electrical systems - could begin in 2006. But the building likely won't be ready for occupancy until 2007.

Commissioners will meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.


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