The stage appears to be set to get the renovation of the former Carnegie Library at Ninth and Vermont streets back on track.
More than a year ago, city commissioners agreed to renovate the historical building, but tight budgets put the project on the back burner for several months. As part of the 2010 city budget the commission agreed to increase the city’s transient guest tax from 5 percent to 6 percent. The additional 1 percent is expected to raise about $100,000 a year, half of which would be used for the Carnegie project. That funding, along with grant funds and existing city funds, are projected to provide enough money to proceed on the Carnegie rehabilitation, and city commissioners will consider Tuesday night whether to proceed with setting a bid date for the work.
This is great news for the city for many reasons. First, it has been a shame to see the former library stand empty and unused since the Lawrence Arts Center moved to its new home in 2002. New plans for the building also have the potential to renew its role as a focal point for activity in downtown Lawrence.
In April 2008, city commissioners agreed to use the first floor of the building to house offices for the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau and Destination Management Inc., which manages the CVB and historical society funding for Douglas County. Since that time, DMI also has been selected to manage the new Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, which includes 41 counties in Missouri and Kansas.
The second floor of the library is expected to house some exhibits connected to the heritage area, but it also will be available for public uses, such as receptions, public meetings and reunions — similar to public space at the Lawrence Visitors Center, but without the passing train whistles.
Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area offers so many exciting opportunities for this community, and the Carnegie building is the ideal location for its offices. It not only positions the community to tout its interesting history but should serve as a downtown lure for both residents and visitors. As commissioners have noted in recent discussions, one of the keys to promoting the “experience” of downtown Lawrence is simply to attract people to the area. The offices and public spaces planned for the Carnegie building fit perfectly with that goal.
As noted above, this building has stood empty too long. It’s understandable that finances have caused some delays, but city officials now have set a reasonable course to return it to public use. We encourage city commissioners to move forward with bids and prepare to put this building back to work.