Archive for Sunday, October 25, 2009

Vision, reality

October 25, 2009


Creating a vision for the future of downtown Lawrence won’t be an easy task. Implementing that vision will be even harder.

On Tuesday’s agenda for the Lawrence City Commission is an item asking for discussion and direction on downtown issues including regulations on panhandling, downtown planning and possible incentives for new retail businesses. The agenda item comes on the heels of a recent meeting between commissioners and about 40 members of Downtown Lawrence Inc. and a couple of months after Commissioner Lance Johnson floated various downtown ideas, including the possibility of closing some streets to create a pedestrian mall.

Before looking at the big ideas, merchants wanted to deal with some nuts and bolts issues, such as what many see as an increase in the vagrant population on downtown sidewalks. Although the city already has an ordinance against “aggressive panhandling,” merchants say stronger measures are needed.

Even this narrow issue isn’t without complications. One commissioner, for instance, suggested a panhandling-free zone for downtown but wanted to figure out a way to allow street musicians. Any law that deals with vagrants runs into First Amendment issues, but trying to create a loophole for “legitimate” musicians is even tougher.

The influx of restaurants into former retail space downtown also is a major concern. A story in the Oct. 2 Journal-World updated progress on three new eateries in the 700 block of Massachusetts Street alone. A couple of weeks later, a local chef announced plans to put a restaurant in the former Round Corner Drug Store building. A long-time downtown business owner expressed the valid concern that “We’re on the precipice of sliding into Aggieville,” the Manhattan bar district.

That certainly wouldn’t be most people’s preferred future for downtown Lawrence, but figuring out ways to attract and preserve more retail in that area won’t be easy.

Mayor Rob Chestnut is right to say that Lawrence needs to look to the future of its downtown rather than dwelling on the past. “… it really needs to be about what we want to be five to 10 years from now, not what we once had or what we don’t want,” he said. Having been raised in Lawrence, Chestnut knows what downtown used to look like, but he knows it never will look like that again.

Doing nothing and letting the marketplace determine downtown’s future certainly would be an option for city officials, but the experience of similar-sized cities in Kansas and elsewhere makes that a risky strategy. Lawrence has worked hard to maintain the vitality of its downtown, which is considered a rare gem by many other cities whose downtown areas now are filled with vacant buildings and marginal businesses.

Experience tells us that getting a critical mass of Lawrence residents to agree on a “vision” for the future of downtown will be next to impossible. Turning that vision into a reality will be even harder. Nonetheless, we applaud commissioners’ commitment to this important task and urge Lawrence residents to join their discussion and effort.


BigPrune 8 years, 7 months ago

I don't think new incentives to attract new retailers can fly because the state legislature only allows incentives for manufacturing/industrial.

Downtown needs a regional attraction that will draw people from other states. Then, and only then, can incentives be used to attract retailers through Star bonds like Wyandotte County used to finance and build The Legends without any private funds from the awarded developer.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Downtown is a primary attraction but not for it's bar traffic.

I remember some years back a well known developer and former city commissioner said that if downtown got into financial difficulty just fill it up with bars and cafes. So much for the family value of downtown if it goes that route. And likely would drive more Lawrence people to shop Oak Park Mall and KCMO metro. Lawrence,Kansas cannot afford that scenario.

Downtown is a gem so why destroy it. Other communities throughout the nation are putting much effort into restoring downtowns. Downtown Lawrence is a huge attraction to visitors and lots of locals.

Why not seek out Land's End,Sony Style,Apple,Banana Republic etc etc for the 800 and 900 blocks.? This could compliment existing merchants of all types. The walk-by traffic downtown is excellent.

Flap Doodle 8 years, 7 months ago

Wear cheerful bright clothing when boarding merrill's flaming handbasket bound for the infernal regions.

monkeyhawk 8 years, 7 months ago

Could it be that merrill is feeling pangs of guilt because he knows that he helped kill Lawrence?

"Why not seek out Land's End,Sony Style,Apple,Banana Republic etc..."

Gee, m, why aren't they seeking out Lawrence? Maybe you could work your magic and MAKE them come! After all, you were powerful enough to destroy, I'm sure you can sprinkle your fairy dust and make them appear....

BigPrune 8 years, 7 months ago

Merrill, Which is it supposed to be downtown, small underfunded mom and pop stores or national 'corporate america' chain stores?

ashmole 8 years, 7 months ago

More restaurants is a good thing for downtown Lawrence. I very seldom shop on Mass Street, but I eat down there 2-3 times a week. Panhandlers and street musicians do not improve my appetite . . .

BrianR 8 years, 7 months ago

Here's an idea, shops could stay open past 5 pm when the people who have the money are available to come in and spend it. What kind of idiotic business plans are they using?

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Large department store types surrounded by Mom and pops would seem to work. They would feed off each other. This combo would generate new walk by traffic for all. That is how many downtowns function.

After all this downtown had large chain names within its' boundaries at one time.

Some of the stores downtown have changed their hours to meet the demand of later shoppers. Some shops could wait until 11 AM to open and stay open till 8 or 9.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

So far as I can see Lawrence development is making the same expensive mistakes other cities have made before them. There are only so many retail dollars available in any community. A tighter market produces strong economic growth.

Too much of everything = economic displacement = bad for business and taxpayers .

The more the town grows so does the crime,so does air pollution and so does the cost to run the city. Grab your wallets.

George Lippencott 8 years, 7 months ago

To the Commissioners:

Good luck. From this forum it would seem much like herding cats!! Be nice if we could work together toward something common that takes into account the needs/desires of all of us-including those of us way out here! I do not know about anybody else out here but I have begun to feel like nothing more than a funding source for somebody else’s dreams! Just why is it that I am supposed to want to pay for a publicly designed downtown ala merrill?

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