Archive for Thursday, January 26, 2006

Two plans compete for use of Carnegie Library

January 26, 2006


Let the contest begin to determine the future of the vacant Carnegie Library building at Ninth and Vermont streets.

After putting out a call for ideas, city commissioners have two plans to choose from: one that would allow the building to become home to a nonprofit folk music and life center, and a request from the city's Parks and Recreation Department to use the building as a community center.

The plan from the Lawrence-based Americana Music Academy to use the building for classroom and performance space may be in the early lead.

"I think Americana has a good proposal," City Commissioner David Schauner said Wednesday. "I think Americana could do some great things for downtown."

City Commissioner Sue Hack also said she was leaning toward supporting Americana because the music school, which has been in operation in Lawrence since 2002, is not seeking any city funding to support its operations. The Parks and Recreation proposal would include an undetermined amount of new staffing and operating expenses.

"I think the bottom line may be how comfortable city commissioners are in approving a project that would require additional city management and ongoing financial support," Hack said.

The Carnegie Library building at Ninth and Vermont streets.

The Carnegie Library building at Ninth and Vermont streets.

The Americana group, which operates out of a house at 1419 Mass., is proposing that it be allowed to use the building rent-free but that it pay for all utilities and general maintenance of the building. That would be similar to the deal the city had with the Lawrence Arts Center, which was located in the building until it moved to a new facility in 2002.

But City Manager Mike Wildgen said the Parks and Recreation proposal deserved a hard look. He said the building could ease space concerns the department has had, especially following the loss of gymnastics space at Kansas University. The proposal also mentions the building could be used for community education classes, additional youth classes, and as a general meeting space for community organizations.

"I think it could be a very active community center," Wildgen said.

Fred DeVictor, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said it also may make sense for the public to be the full-time user of the site because the city - with the help of federal grant money - has spent $432,000 to renovate the building and has plans to spend another $750,000 to add an elevator and handicapped-accessible bathrooms.

"We think that is a key point," DeVictor said.

Supporters of Americana, though, said they would make the space available for community events when it was not in use for performances or classes, which range from guitar to harmonica lessons.

Thom Alexander, executive director of the academy, said he hoped city commissioners saw his proposal as a unique opportunity to create a new cultural destination for downtown. The number of students served by the academy has grown from 387 in 2002 to more than 1,300 in 2005. Its tuition revenue has grown from about $70,000 in 2004 to more than $90,000 in 2005. Alexander estimated the academy likely would be able to draw an additional 2,000 people per month to downtown Lawrence.

Parks and Recreation leaders, though, had numbers backing up their need for more space. According to their proposal, the city's four existing recreation centers hosted 1,139 parties, receptions or meetings in 2005. The city's Union Pacific Depot building also had 365 reservations and turned away an estimated 100 individuals who sought to schedule an event at the depot but found the facility to be too small or unavailable.

City commissioners are expected to hear more details about the proposals at a meeting in February. The building likely won't be ready for a new user until 2007.

The city previously had selected the Hughes Carnegie Literacy Center as the user for the site. But commissioners have asked that group to consider being part of an expanded Lawrence Public Library.


rtwngr 12 years, 3 months ago

Americana Music Academy would make a wonderful tenant and would definitely add to the downtown atmosphere. The city has public use facilities now. Americana DOES need the space. Before all of the naysayers offer their opinions, they should check out what and who Americana serves. I urge the public to support Americana in its efforts.

Rhoen 12 years, 3 months ago

Give it to Packer Plastics - let them go forth and teach others the ART of the deal ...

neopolss 12 years, 3 months ago

I'm not sure if I really like either one all that much. Maybe they could just continuosly rent it out for parties and weddings and crap.

Jamesaust 12 years, 3 months ago

Perhaps this can be educational for everyone - does Lawrence have a particular folk music tradition? Harmonica lessons? I can only recall one harmonica player in Lawrence - he used to stand downtown and play what sounded mysteriously like 'beat' music but on his harmonica, which is a musical pairing I would never have been exposed to otherwise.

CalGal 12 years, 3 months ago

This article did not do Americana's proposal justice. Before anyone passes judgement, I suggest you find out more about what the school brings to this community now and what they want to do for it in the future. And for the record, it's not just "folk" music per se, but all American root music, including blues, R & B, bluegrass, jazz and more.

Lawrence, from what I've heard, used to have a great music tradition that's slacked off over the years. Let's support something that will bring that distinction back, and perhaps eventually become a major national draw.

Raider 12 years, 3 months ago

A Community Bldg would much better serve the city. While I agree that Americana probably needs more space, the Carnegie should be used as a public bldg and not a private business.

Godot 12 years, 3 months ago

Why do they deserve free rent? If the city were to lease that space out they could get $5,000 a month, easy, plus maintenance and insurance. What makes this business deserving of a free ride?

Janet Lowther 12 years, 3 months ago

Americana is a valuable resource for the community, and I believe it has committed to make the more public spaces available for public use much like the art center did.

Further, unlike turning it over to parks & recreation it would not be an ongoing drain on the city's resources.

Godot 12 years, 3 months ago

Well, there are other, more established arts organizations that actually raised money to buy their buildings rather than expect a free ride from the city. I think this is ridiculous.

Oread 12 years, 3 months ago

Americana Music is a non-profit and does serve the public.

Kookamooka 12 years, 3 months ago

All I wish is that whoever takes the building doesn't go in and trash the inside, like the old art center did. I can't stand it when civic groups destroy the architechtural integrity of our historic buildings. Americana could probably keep the space pretty historic and still manage to function but a Parks and Rec site is bound to turn it into another sterile, "cafegymatorium". If Americana takes the space, they could possibly open their auditorium space to other music groups striving to perform. Like vocal acapella groups that sing the folk music of other countries. I don't know. I'm just brainstorming here. BUT I will say this. And I will say it LOUDLY....THE ART CENTER DOES NOT PLACE ENOUGH ATTENTION OR FOCUS ON COMMUNITY MUSIC OPPORTUNITIES. (DANCE, THEATER, ART-YES, MUSIC,NO) It costs too much for a struggling group to RENT their spaces. It is, IN EFFECT, INACCESSIBLE and therefore, not meeting it's mission to the community!

Godot 12 years, 3 months ago

I don't have a problem with that as long as they pay the going rate for rent, like other non-profits do.

Rhoen 12 years, 3 months ago

The Carnegie Libraries were a wonderful philathropic idea by a truly progressive entrepreneur. Andrew Carnegie believed that part of his responsibility for being so blessed in his business endeavors was to share the benefit of his wealth with the community as a whole.

Why not try to find a way to honor the spirit of his bequest to Lawrence and maintain this space in a way that serves his original purpose in giving it? The "use" to which it's been put over the past couple of years is a travesty: The building itself sitting empty and various groups squabbling over who's most "entitled" to it.

Why not offer it as a space for a variety of celebrations by individual and community groups and charge only the costs of administration, maintaining it and cleaning it?

Am also in agreement with K/k/m/k/a that the architecture is beautiful and should be preserved as purely as possible.

gbaker 12 years, 3 months ago

Does the city really need another centrally located recreation center that nobody is going to feel comfortable going to because the homeless have taken it over? Look at what has happened to the Community center on 11th.

beethoven 12 years, 3 months ago

Let me clear up an obvious misconception: the "free ride" rule applies to ANY organization that gets the building, NOT just Americana.

beethoven 12 years, 3 months ago

The other misconception is that Americana is just some specialized "Folk Music School" Actually, the Americana teaches Blues (incl. electric), R&B, and Rock 'n Roll too. I peeked in on the "Rock 'n Roll" class, and the kids in it were learning an ACDC song. There are also straight-ahead Jazz lessons going on in the place. The attempt on the part of some parties to marginalize the Americana as some little folkie school is at best, misinformed.

beethoven 12 years, 3 months ago

Lastly, the RFP that the Commission put forth as guidlines for any possible orginization states clearly that the tenent for the Carnegie Library needs to be as self-sustaining as possible, with as little extra cost to the city as possible. Right now, out of the two possible tenents, the Parks and Rec Dept. is the only one asking for a significant kick-in from the city. The Academy has made no such request.

beethoven 12 years, 3 months ago

Lastly, to reiterate, ANYONE who moves into the building gets free rent. That's right, to clarify the "free ride" notion, the city is not allowed to charge rent to whomever they grant the use of the building. Only to hold the tenent accountable for the payment of utilities. I know the article made it sound purely like the Americana's on personal request, but that is simply not true, and can be proven by examining the City Commissions own guidlines for the building.

Rhoen 12 years, 3 months ago

Would it be possible to have the guidelines that accompanied the original bequest of the Carnegie Library to the City of Lawrence made part of the discussion? Those should provide a workable checklist for potential use.

cowboy 12 years, 3 months ago

With only 90,000 in annual revenue the American cannot afford the building maintenance. Next Proposal please

CalGal 12 years, 3 months ago

Obviously the City believes Americana has the income to meet the financial requirements, Cowboy, or it wouldn't be seriously considering their proposal.

In order to verify your claim, can you tell us where you got your information on Americana's annual revenue and the current costs of maintaining the Carnegie building?

cowboy 12 years, 3 months ago

Read the article CalGal , it states their revenue , a building that size is expensive to maintain , I know they arer non-profit but they would have major expenses on this buiding. Im not anti americana by any means but the revenue number doesn;t tell me they can take care of the building adequately. Just put your calculator and start adding up utilities , insurance , repairs , equiping the building with furniture , maintenance , snow removal , instructional costs , security , you can spend that revenue pretty quick and to be handed this building I would want to see a stronger revenue stream.

I'll be straight up and say the city can do a lot more in supporting the performing arts and it beats the heck out of all the money they have wasted on sub par art and homeless people.

beethoven 12 years, 2 months ago

Again, there is this persistant comment about the Americana being the only place that is all about getting free rent! Read the RFP! ANY place that goes into the Carnegie building will NOT be paying rent. The city will NOT be charging rent to the next tenant, whoever it is! As for Americana not being able to afford rent, that is also pure ignorance: the Americana is, and has been paying rent for years! All the Americana has been saying, is that from the savings recouped from moving into a rent-free space, it would be able to implement even more programs than it already has going on.

beethoven 12 years, 2 months ago

As for not being able to maintain a building, the Americana has been maintaining the building it is in for a long time! The house is old, and it costs a lot to heat it, and Americana has been able to meet those costs too. In short, the place is, and has been completely self-sustaining since it started up. Again, the point stated in the article about free rent, was only applied to the Americana's argument out of context of the larger truth: that by getting the same good deal that anyone else who moved in there would get anyway, the Americana could do some other things with the money saved. Like apply it to other programs. Period.

CalGal 12 years, 2 months ago

Cowboy, my apology. I had read the article and simply skimmed right past the numbers. :o)

beethoven 12 years, 2 months ago

But they won't be charged rent. No matter who it would have been. Even if a third party had gotten in a proposal, and beat out both Americana and Parks and Rec., THEY wouldn't have been charged rent either! If you think that's wrong, don't single out the Americana; address your grievences to the city!

beethoven 12 years, 2 months ago

I can't believe how many times you have to repeat the same information, over and over again, and still somebody out there doesn't get it! The building is R-E-N-T F-R-E-E to begin with. Period. End of story.

beethoven 12 years, 2 months ago

Then don't tell me, TELL THE CITY GOVERNMENT. Reminding me that Parks and Rec is part of the city government, or that all non-profits should pay rent on the building if they're not part of the city is innefectual and a waste of time. If you think they should heed your advice, then don't waste it on me, tell them. End of story.

2U2 12 years, 2 months ago

What would be the best fit for the building? Do we need another Rec Center located downtown? I think Americana would best serve that location and the people of lawrence. If we need a new community center it should be located farther west where all of the growth has occured in the last 5 years. Parks and Rec has lagged behind in developing the newer areas of this community.

bonzo 12 years, 2 months ago

Lawrence has a rich tradition of supporting the arts. I think that Americanas proposal is an excellent fit with that tradition! It will give the children and many adults a place to nurture their love of music. That's something that the rec centers can't offer. Anyway, doesn't parks and rec have two other rec centers within 2 blocks of Carnegie? Surely they could spare that space for kids who would rather play music than basketball!

Godot 12 years, 2 months ago

Americana doesn't have enough of a track record to justify this endorsement and, yes, free ride, provided by the city. If they were able to raise some money, say $100,000, that could be set aside in an escrow account to guarantee their maintenance and utility responsibilities, then, I'd be more in favor. That would be a more credible gauge of widespread community support than we see in the influence that a particular group of people have over a couple of commissioners.

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