Pat Flavin looks into the future of Lawrence, and he sees plenty of room for opportunity - for new jobs, expanding recreation, groundbreaking research, traffic-easing transportation, dream-fulfilling homes, beyond-peer schools and for seemingly anything else that anyone could want in a successful and forward-looking hometown.
But, from his real estate office along Sixth Street in northwest Lawrence, Flavin can't find the one item the community seems to crave, seek and - in his mind - need in the worst way.
Flavin wants Lawrence to have a vision, a single vision, that can coalesce the community's diversified and at times divergent hopes and dreams into a unified action plan.
All within six months.
"The seed's been set here, in terms of inviting the city, the county, the educational institutions, the school district, along with the chamber, to collectively bring people to the table and talk about a vision for this community, along with a process to make this vision quest possible," says Flavin, having started this month as chairman of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.
The quest, Flavin says, will be the chamber's focus this year - a focus he hopes will draw interest and participation from all governmental, institutional, educational and other organizations, operations and occupations throughout the community.
While Horizon 2020 has governed the area's long-term land-use needs for the better part of a decade, Flavin says, it has been unable to provide the leadership that officials need to shed their reactionary planning processes and instead move into embracing true goals fulfillment.
The process would start with some help. After a year in which development plans for northwest Lawrence hit a brick wall once concerns surfaced about sewage capacity, Flavin says, it's clear that the community needs to find itself with assistance from a professional.
"That means actually, literally, hiring a coordinator, counselor, facilitator - whatever word works - to help us along," Flavin says. "We need to be coached. And I think the timing is favorable for this. It's serendipitous and fortuitous because I think we've only just now finally learned some lessons. It's more than just planning. It's more than just land-use type of planning, and dealing with city infrastructure. It's more than that.
The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting begins at 6 p.m. Friday, January 20, at the Eldridge Hotel, 701 Mass., with cocktails and a strolling buffet. The program and awards ceremony for Athena and Citizens of the Year winners will follow at Liberty Hall, 642 Mass.
"It's a quality-of-life issue: How do we want to live here?"
The chamber is willing to spend at least $5,000 this year to hire a facilitator to get the process going, Flavin says, and the city and perhaps other partners will be asked to chip in.
The move comes as the chamber is preparing to continue work on several fronts, embark on some new frontiers and count on a new face to help generate additional business activity:
¢ Business parks and open space. The Lawrence-Douglas County Economic Development Board continues to discuss plans for establishing new areas for industrial development in conjunction with preservation of open spaces. Much of the work has been pioneered by ECO2, a group that has been meeting for several years to hammer out compromises between what had been two polarized constituencies. Now, Flavin says, ECO2 serves as a model for the vision quest. "They're exemplary in the coming together of mind and spirit in pursuit of a common goal," he says.
¢ Biosciences. The chamber intends to play a lead role in establishment of flexible space, known as "wet labs," that would be appropriate for use by high-tech laboratory operations. The effort is to be financed by $200,000 each this year from Lawrence and Douglas County governments, plus commitments from the chamber itself. The chamber plans to hire a person on staff, likely as a chamber vice president, to oversee the collaborative project with assistance from Kansas University and others.
¢ Economic development. Beth Johnson, director of economic development in Rice County, agreed in December to come to Lawrence as the chamber's new vice president for economic development. She takes over for Lynn Parman in leading a three-person department with a $600,000 annual budget and responsibility for guiding business-attraction, job-creation and development-promoting efforts in the city and county. Mike Maddox, a regional bank president who led the search committee, describes Johnson as a someone who should be able to lead a large team of interests - developers, planners, government officials and others - toward common goals.
Teamwork, planning, vision: Such are the chamber's goals for 2006.
All within six months.
"I'd like to see us up and operational, so to speak, with a vision, going forward, by mid-summer at the latest," Flavin says. "And it should be done and can be done. There's no reason it can't be."