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 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.