Archive for Monday, September 18, 2006

Group hopes to create vision for downtown

Merchants want to keep Mass. Street as ‘the place to be’

September 18, 2006


Downtown Lawrence no longer is one of the few place in the area to take a nice stroll surrounded by shops, restaurants and art.

New developments that attempt to replicate the downtown feel have been popping up like blue light specials in recent years.

The Legends, a megaretail center just 30 minutes away in western Wyandotte County, is the latest. But there have been plenty of others in the Kansas City metropolitan area, which long has been an important base of customers for downtown Lawrence.

So surely that new trend must be the biggest challenge facing Lawrence's downtown.

"No," says Martin Moore, a Lawrence developer who is heavily invested in downtown. "Apathy is the biggest threat to downtown. We have to realize it will take continued investment to keep downtown vibrant."

Downtown merchants also are singing that tune. Downtown Lawrence Inc., the nonprofit group that represents merchants and other businesses, is beginning to beat the drum for a new planning effort that will attempt to map out the vision of downtown Lawrence for decades to come.

"My perception is that today, downtown Lawrence is still the place to be," said Dan Hughes, an owner of Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop, 802-804 Mass. "But if you don't figure out how to make it better, somebody else will build another Legends or something else.

"One thing that is certain is that if you are not growing, you are stagnant, and stagnant is dead."

Planning to plan

Cara Connelly, a part owner of Silver Works and More, 715 Mass., looks out as cars pass and people walk downtown. Merchants soon will be asked to help put together a long-range plan to shape the future of downtown - its shape, feel and function.

Cara Connelly, a part owner of Silver Works and More, 715 Mass., looks out as cars pass and people walk downtown. Merchants soon will be asked to help put together a long-range plan to shape the future of downtown - its shape, feel and function.

Rick Marquez, the new DLI director, said his group is preparing to ask the downtown community to engage in creating a long-range plan that addresses how the business district will look, feel and function.

The effort, which likely won't start until merchants are done with the busy holiday shopping season, could involve a committee of five to seven stakeholders and a series of public meetings to get input.

Exactly what issues the plan would address won't be determined until the process begins. But Marquez said there are several obvious issues, including:

¢ The optimal mix of retail, entertainment and residential uses in downtown.

¢ The role that large special events should play in attracting people to downtown.

¢ Where and what type of new parking structures should be placed in the area.

¢ Perceptions that public safety in the area is on the decline.

¢ Whether the actual footprint of downtown needs to be expanded.

Getting along

Whatever plan the DLI effort comes up with won't be an official city plan. Marquez said his group recognizes it doesn't have the authority to create a definitive plan for downtown.

"We understand we're just a private organization, but whatever plan we come up with, we would like for the city to take a look at it and consider it," Marquez said.

Moore, the developer - who hasn't been involved with DLI's efforts - said he's fine with the group trying to plan, though he's not sure it will produce a definitive outline for the area.

Paige Comparato, Lawrence, shops downtown for a present for a friend. A group of downtown merchants soon will begin putting together a plan to shape the historic shopping district's future in the face of competition.

Paige Comparato, Lawrence, shops downtown for a present for a friend. A group of downtown merchants soon will begin putting together a plan to shape the historic shopping district's future in the face of competition.

But he said there have been questions lingering about downtown for a while now. The "age-old" question, Moore said, is whether downtown Lawrence is destined to become an entertainment district populated primarily by bars and restaurants.

"I think the big question really should be, 'How are we all going to get along?'" Moore said. "There are bar owner and shop owner conflicts, especially when a shop owner is picking up trash and washing off their sidewalk on Saturday morning. But we also have to remember that those entertainment businesses bring a lot of people to downtown. They really help keep us on the map.

"I don't think we want to give up on retail, but I don't think we want to give up on entertainment either."

Recruiting businesses

Marquez said his group wouldn't go into the process with any preconceived notions that, for example, there need to be fewer entertainment businesses.

"We really do want to hear what people think is needed to keep downtown viable," Marquez said. "We would come into this with our eyes wide open."

But there are questions whether additional efforts are needed to attract traditional retail businesses to downtown. The Downtown 2000 project in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street, which is being led by a group that includes Moore, has not attracted the type of retail development that it envisioned. Much of the property in the block remains undeveloped, and the group has shifted its focus to convincing the city to build a new downtown library on the site.

There also are numerous vacancies downtown, with some storefronts sitting empty for more than a year, especially when the owners of the property are seeking tenants other than a restaurant.


A city-sponsored study last year found that the retail vacancy rate in downtown was about 10 percent, which the city-hired consultant said was nearing the point of concern.

A survey in July by the Lawrence commercial real estate firm of Grubb & Ellis/The Winbury Group found the vacancy rate was 7.5 percent, which was higher than the city's average vacancy rate of about 5.5 percent.

Marquez said he hoped a long-range plan would produce a list of business types that people want to see in the downtown area.

Related link

"We could go out and try to recruit particular types of businesses," Marquez said. "I think that is what people would like this group to do. I know personally that is what I would like to do."

Evolution in downtown

Some retail watchers, though, said they hoped that any efforts by DLI would not enter the realm of trying to micromanage the market.

"It gets to be pretty tricky to manipulate the market rather than let it go where it wants to go," said Kelvin Heck, a broker with Grubb & Ellis/The Winbury Group, 805 N.H.

Heck said it was important to recognize that downtown retail had evolved largely into specialty stores and boutiques.

"You're not going to see any of the mainline stores, like a J.C. Penney, come back to downtown," he said. "You can't get them a big enough footprint, they can't park it the way they want, the big trucks can't easily deliver to them. You have to look for stores that sell something that isn't provided in the big stores."

Boutique and specialty stores, though, face their own set of challenges, with Internet shopping being perhaps the biggest. That's why Moore said any look at the future of retail in downtown should be a broad-based examination.

"I think the factors that are affecting retail sales are probably national in nature," Moore said. "It probably is not something specific to our downtown."

But merchants said it also would be important to examine local issues that make it more difficult for downtown to remain the "focus of the city."

"The No. 1 thing is always getting people downtown," said Hughes of Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop. "Lawrence has grown in a number of ways. I don't want to say it has sprawled, but there is a whole group of people who don't come downtown.

"Sometimes it is a perception that there is no parking. Sometimes it is a perception that every store down here is overpriced. There are a whole lot of image issues that we can try to address."


jayhawk2000 11 years, 7 months ago

I remember taking a friend for a walk around the downtown on her first visit to Lawrence. She proclaimed it to be 'the nicest mall' she had ever seen. Lawrence should be proud.

lunacydetector 11 years, 7 months ago

if you compare the traffic on massachusetts street to the other major streets in lawrence like 23rd, iowa, & 6th street, there is no comparison. mass has a fraction of the traffic. so why is the rent downtown the highest in town? this explains the vacancy. it ain't rocket science.

the problem with the downtown is access. contrary to grand visions, people do not want to walk. that is why the parking garage isn't working. it is all about convenience and downtown is not convenient because the majority of people are lazy.

the market needs to be the driver, not a group of people who don't know what they are doing trying to make a grand plan. it's kind of like horizon 2020 - a plan by a group of citizens who didn't know what they were doing and as it turned out, a plan that was outdated the day it rolled off the presses. it's also like the downtown parking garage. sure it has some attached shops, but isn't the majority of it filled with a police parking control office and in the best available location? what's up with that?

leaving the plan to a group of citizens is not the way to go. it has failed miserably in the past. stagnation explains lawrence as a whole for the past 4-5 years, because horizon 2020 doesn't allow the city to roll with the changes.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 7 months ago

Cautionary tale? Thursday, September 7, 2006

To the editor:

I am referring to the Sept. 2 Saturday Column concerning "Strengthening downtown is more vital than 'protecting' it."

The writer has a very good point. I am from Independence, Mo. In 1951, when I moved there, we had a drugstore on every corner, Jones Store, JC Penney's, Emery Byrd's, Kneopker's, Duvall's, several shoe stores and several clothing stores. You could buy anything you needed. The thinking in Independence was to not grow and not let any industry in that might dirty what they had.

The result was a bedroom community that, therefore, did not have the tax base it needed to support the infrastructure.

In the late '50s the Blue Ridge Mall came. People went to the mall because there were not parking meters. Instead of removing them on the Independence square, they raised the price of the meter. That really chased everyone to the mall. Now, most businesses are gone and they have empty storefronts. It is a sad demise for such a nice town.

Towns are like ponds. They need fresh water or they stagnate and die.

We need a new kind of thinking in this lovely community.

Dana Prijatel,


Parking meters chased consumers out? Gasoline is and always has been more expensive than parking meters. in the 50's pennies bought time on parking meter.

Is Blue Ridge Mall still alive? Malls die sooner or later with few exceptions such as Oak Park Mall. Dead malls leave behind big empty spaces which are difficult to resell and no longer produce sales tax revenue or employment.

Blue Ridge Mall killed their downtown business district and left behind buildings which are NOT providing sales tax revenue or jobs. This kind of thinking does not seem like a worthwhile venture. Actually a new kind of thinking is realizing that small communities cannot support tons and tons of retail for there are only so many retail dollars on the Lawrence planet. Last night 9/06/06 part of a discussion was about many vacancies aka turnovers in the west Lawrence(6th and Wakarusa) retail strip malls.

Downtown Lawrence should remain as the central business district. The draw for tourists is the fact that downtown Lawrence STILL is the central business district.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 7 months ago

Belfast Votes in Self-Defense

By Stacy Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance originally published in Portland Press Herald, July 8, 2001

By a nearly 2-1 margin, Belfast voters recently endorsed a measure to limit new retail stores to no more than 75,000 square feet. The law will keep Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and other "big box" retailers out of the community.

The Belfast vote is part of a growing nationwide movement. In the last few years alone, more than 100 cities and towns have rejected big box stores.

Grassroots groups dedicated to halting retail sprawl and strengthening local businesses are springing up around the country. In Belfast, a citizen coalition known as Belfast First helped build support for the size limit.

The group has counterparts in dozens of other communities, including Friends of Flagstaff's Future in Flagstaff, Ariz., the Main Street Defense Fund in Northfield, Minn., and the 5 and 10 Coalition in Hatfield, Mass.

The dramatic rise of chain stores and decline of local businesses over the last decade is not simply the result of market forces. It is a trend that has been aided in no small part by public policy.

Land use and zoning rules often encourage auto-oriented development on the outskirts of town, while undermining central business districts. Local and state governments frequently provide multimillion-dollar subsidies to lure big box stores, but deny assistance to local merchants.

An increasing number of communities are adopting policies that support, rather than undermine, locally owned businesses and healthy downtowns.


Richard Heckler 11 years, 7 months ago

In order to grow business, a region cannot rely on the consumer demand of its residents alone. Tourists need to be brought into the area, and they need to spend money while here. Drawing tourists is one way that a revitalized downtown can help the larger community. Tourists are not drawn to shop in the strip malls and the Wal-Marts of the world. Those places are there for the convenience of the residents in the area.

Tourists, however, come to downtowns because they are places with character. Specifically what attracts people is a community that is culturally rich, open, diverse, and tolerant. Cultural amenities such as outdoor recreational activities and a vibrant street art and music scene are needed assets. Since attracting tourists' dollars to the area is vital to the regional economy, maintaining downtown will benefit more than just the merchants who do business there.

Downtowns give a city its identity. A Downtown's health affects the attitudes of visitors and residents alike. Future construction in the downtown should reflect that of the original architecture such as the courthouse, old post office or Liberty Hall while at the same time applying LEED codes to insure energy efficiency and utility cost control.

Independent businesses have long been the backbone of the American economy and way of life.

Lawrence has plenty of bars and resturants downtown and can only support so many.

tim_78 11 years, 7 months ago

We need to look at Downtown with fresh eyes. I love Downtown Lawrence, but when I go Downtown today it is much different than it was even a few years ago.

Downtown is much dirtier with more trash on the sidewalks than in the past. I don't know why, but the city needs to clean up on a more regular basis.

The homeless population is also getting out of control, there have always been homeless people in downtown, but now it seems like there is a group on every street corner yelling at people and pan handling more agressivley than in the past.

With great shopping options competing with Downtown, I don't see how Downtown will compete in the future unless city hall decides to clean up the place.

Sacerdotal 11 years, 7 months ago

Downtown is much dirtier with more trash on the sidewalks than in the past. I don't know why, but the city needs to clean up on a more regular basis.

It will get dirtier. The future is bars, dance halls and food joints.......just like Aggieville in Manhattan. As for the homeless..........WWJD?

Rationalanimal 11 years, 7 months ago

The verdict on the unavoidable future of downtown was handed down when an AK-47 was found near a downtown nightclub.

my2cents 11 years, 7 months ago

Maybe instead of focusing all your business to one street, they should expand more the "area." A viable easy access/exit parking garage would be good too.

I would be interesting if Mass. St. was turned into a pedestrian street only. Mass would be more open, more sideway cafe's, better predestrian flow and probably a better vibe b/c you wouldn't have the vehicular traffic to dodge.

Just some thoughts...I'm not a designer or engineer, but to get the attention of people you have to offer something different, fun, and rememberable.

That's what brings people back.

Kookamooka 11 years, 7 months ago

I like the idea of a pedestrian mall with moveable barriers at the top and bottom of the street so parades can still move down the center of Mass street. And wide enough variances around future fountains and planters so floats can still navigate.

Lawrence is going to undergo some really uncomfortable growing pains in the next few years. We just need to keep a healthy and civil diaglogue going.

Sigmund 11 years, 7 months ago

Merrill is an idiot, "In order to grow business, a region cannot rely on the consumer demand of its residents alone." Really, says who? Based upon that I assume he is for building the SLT. The rest makes even less sense.

My vision for Downtown Lawrence? A place neither protected nor discriminated against that is allowed to shrink or grow based upon the skill and abilities of the business owners to adapt to changing economics and tastes.

I doubt very few people, especially the BBC (Bozo Business Czar), would have predicted a month ago that gasoline prices today would be around $2.10/gallon. Why anyone thinks they can predict the future of Downtown Lawrence a year from now is simply laughable.

Quit trying to fool us, you're only fooling yourself. Lawrence is a College Town/Bedroom Community and it used to be a pretty good one, till the Kommission and the BBC started imposing their unrealistic and unworkable vision upon us. Simply get out of the way, quit attempting to micro-manage Lawrence's economy and downtown, stop trying to impose your vision on every little aspect of our lives. Then sit back and watch Lawrence grow or shrink based on the needs and vision of the citizens and business owners themselves, the people that REALLY make up this town.

The BBC and PLC Kommsssioners "vision" for Lawrence is little more than a bong inspired hallucination.

blessed3x 11 years, 7 months ago

Downtown offers little for the family. The businesses cater to the college-aged set and walking through the puke and cigarette butts from last night's festivities at the bar make size 2 shoes nasty.

lynnd 11 years, 7 months ago

It isn't only people who are going to the bars who cause downtown Lawrence to be filthy. Plenty of non-bar-goers contribute to this. It's not fair to blame everything wrong with downtown on the bars and their customers.

Godot 11 years, 7 months ago

As I read this, Martin Moore has speculated by buying a lot of property downtown, and his speculation has not paid off as he had hoped, so he is now lobbying the City to get taxpayers to bail him out by buying (excuse me, "leasing") his property for the new library.

At least we have the motivation for this behemoth of a boogdoggle out on the table.

Is Moore the only member of 9-10 LC? If not, it would be interesting to know the idenitities of his co-speculators.

Sigmund 11 years, 7 months ago

Godot raises a great point. By protecting downtown in essence you are protecting the pocket book of the landlords. I challenge the LJWorld to do some real investigative reporting. Disclose who owns what in Downtown Lawrence and dislcose how much in sales tax revenue has been lost in the bars, resturaunts, coffee shops since the smoking ban was imposed? Do those two things and I'll even subscribe to the dead tree version.

"One thing that is certain is that if you are not growing, you are stagnant, and stagnant is dead." What is zero growth but planned stagnation?

Sacerdotal 11 years, 7 months ago

Do those two things and I'll even subscribe to the dead tree version.

The LJW does not do investigative reporting; it would irritate the powers-that-be. Perhaps a higher power will take care of the situation?

Sacerdotal 11 years, 7 months ago


I know; I know. It's so hard to be a Christian. Loving everyone is hard, hard I tell ya. It's so easy to love those who are lovable and who have money. This is one reason the TEACHER got in trouble. He didn't love the rich as they (in their own minds) so 'richly' deserved.

davisnin 11 years, 7 months ago

Maybe more luxury condos are the answer. Ones that look exactly like the kind of loft-style luxury condos that are going up everywhere else in the country right now. With concrete that looks like brick and stone. Then they could complain about the businesses they were built next to! That would SAVE downtown!

Drop the stupid anti-bar policies, institute good anti-bar policies. The Masons lodge would be better as a bar/venue than empty. Smoking should be market determined. Last Call should be outlawed.

ilovelucy 11 years, 7 months ago

Godot-if you go to the county website, you can get a list of property owners. Lots of individuals but just as many corporations.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 11 years, 7 months ago

There are as many opinions about downtown as there are contributors to this forum. Here's mine.

I have not shopped downtown for many years. I used to go to an optical shop for my glasses, but having to park blocks away and walk (I am partially handicapped, bad knees) so I stopped going there. There is nothing down there I need that I cannot get at Target, Office Depot, Wal-Mart or Auto-Zone. For a lot less money, hassle, parking expense, and having to look through many "specialty stores". Face it, the business model for modern society has changed and those who choose to continue to fight it are swimming upstream. Not that this is not a good thing, it would be great to live in a perfect world, but we do not. Most people want it fast, cheap, and easily accessable. None of these things apply to businesses downtown. Yeah, yeah, there are those up-scale individuals who like to put on airs and show to be different and go against the trends, but they are few. I wish it were different, but it is not and all the planning and wishing simply do not make economic sense in today's world for a small college town, with a myopic roundabout drunk, green-spaced out city government who dream huge fantisies that have little in the realm of reality.

Godot 11 years, 7 months ago

"Godot-if you go to the county website, you can get a list of property owners. Lots of individuals but just as many corporations"

Right. The corporations shield the names of the individuals who are making the investment. That's what I would like to know.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 7 months ago

Downtown Lawrence does need to keep families in mind. I do like the idea of closing off mass to pedestrians only, however that might be hard on business initially. OR keep one lane store front parking reserved for handicapped and senior citizens.

I say move the art fairs into the streets of downtown Lawrence as they do in the Plaza. Close off Mass street temporarily with the idea of bringing business to the doors. Why not have food and flower fairs downtown once in a while?

When we first moved here it was common to see merchants sweeping and cleaning up the front of their places to the curb. There is far more nightlife now than there was from 87-91 which is generating more rubbish. It would be good for Lawrence to have a serious downtown clean up crew each AM....perhaps KU would consider throwing in a few bucks since the music scene is an attraction for the students

Bring on more cycling activities. Food fairs. More small business...something that does not require a lot of new infrastructure.

When I talk tourism that's anybody that does not live in Lawrence that is here on business, Jayhawk Sports fans, cyclist fans, art enthusiasts,parents of KU students,band day participants,christmas parade participants,brewery connoisseurs, dog show participants,horse show participants,hot rod show participants, farmers market shoppers and more. We need to keep Downtown Lawrence fun and user friendly. There are relatively successful new additions to downtown Lawrence although national chains.

No I do not think downtown Lawrence needs to become aggieville.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.