Everybody loves downtown.
At a forum Wednesday morning sponsored by Downtown Lawrence Inc., all eight candidates for the Lawrence City Commission gushed about the importance of keeping downtown healthy.
In particular, all the candidates said they supported the continued use of property tax money to at least partially fund the operations of the nonprofit Downtown Lawrence Inc. organization.
But there were nuances in each of the candidates’ messages. Here’s a look:
• James Bush said he supported continued funding for DLI — which in 2009 is budgeted to receive $42,500 — but also said the amount might have to be adjusted, based on the economic situation.
Bush also seemed to question whether other candidates in the field were in a position to back up promises of financially supporting downtown for the long term.
“I want you to really hear what all of us are saying and why we’re saying it,” said Bush, who has at times questioned some candidates’ commitment to grow the community’s job and tax base. “Is there a sensible solution behind the plans?”
• Dennis Constance said he supported the funding but didn’t want Downtown Lawrence Inc. to use the money to become economic development recruiters for downtown.
• Lance Johnson said he also wanted to maintain the level of funding. But as he’s indicated with most budget-related questions, he said he would have to examine the merits of DLI funding against other budget issues the city will face.
• Aron Cromwell said he supports the funding. He said downtown should be central to Lawrence’s job growth in the future by playing an “absolutely critical” role in Lawrence’s efforts to grow its tourism industry.
• Incumbent Mike Amyx said his voting record shows that he has been a consistent supporter of funding downtown efforts, although he said economic conditions did require the city to reduce the amount of funding to DLI in 2009.
He said the organization could perhaps garner more city funding by showing growth in its membership and pointing to larger sales tax collections from downtown.
• Price Banks told the crowd that the downtown organization deserved the funding it receives because a large amount of the property taxes the city receives comes from downtown property owners.
• Gwen Klingenberg said she supported providing funding to DLI, but wanted the organization to work on playing a “larger role at City Hall and to be heard more often.”
• Tom Johnson, as part of DLI’s written questionnaire to candidates, was the only candidate who did not say protecting Downtown Lawrence was his highest priority. He ranked it as an eight on a scale of 1 to 10, with protecting core services and infrastructure ranking higher.
But Tom Johnson did say he supported funding for the organization, and wanted to work on ways to make it a larger player in the city’s economic development scene and to be more of an equal partner with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce in those efforts.