Archive for Sunday, August 22, 2010

Downtown revitalization, 30 years later

The complexion of Sixth and Massachusetts streets changed completely after construction of a new City Hall began in the late 1970s, at right. The grain elevators were used when the area was a major shipping hub for the Santa Fe Railway and Jenny Wren flour was produced at the site. But the flour plant closed around World War II, and the grain elevators were shuttered in the 1960s, leaving an eyesore. The new City Hall, dedicated in 1980, changed all that. “It probably was the most important of all the decisions that we made about downtown,” said Bob Schumm, a downtown restaurant owner who was on the City Commission in 1980.

The complexion of Sixth and Massachusetts streets changed completely after construction of a new City Hall began in the late 1970s, at right. The grain elevators were used when the area was a major shipping hub for the Santa Fe Railway and Jenny Wren flour was produced at the site. But the flour plant closed around World War II, and the grain elevators were shuttered in the 1960s, leaving an eyesore. The new City Hall, dedicated in 1980, changed all that. “It probably was the most important of all the decisions that we made about downtown,” said Bob Schumm, a downtown restaurant owner who was on the City Commission in 1980.

August 22, 2010

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For decades, there was little question what lorded over downtown Lawrence — grain elevators.

City Hall about to celebrate 30th birthday

The building went up with little complaint 30 years ago, but the real problem came with the parking lot across the street. Enlarge video

Tall silos — numbering more than a half-dozen — dominated the northern end of downtown Lawrence like a bully dominates a dark alley.

“That whole area looked like it was from 1910, barely Industrial Revolution era,” said former City Manager Mike Wildgen. “It was like you were waiting for a little urchin to come out and say ‘Can I please have some more, sir.’”

Thirty years ago Monday, that all changed. City leaders on a Saturday in 1980 dedicated their new $3 million City Hall at Sixth and Massachusetts streets, and were convinced that they had struck a major blow for the health of downtown.

Three decades later, many still agree.

“It probably was the most important of all the decisions that we made about downtown,” said Bob Schumm, a downtown restaurant owner who was on the commission in 1980. “It made people feel secure to put money into their businesses and buildings downtown.”

The current crop of City Hall leaders plans to celebrate the moment. City commissioners will host a reception at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall to commemorate the anniversary. Cake and punch will be served, and commissioners hope to take a photo of all past mayors and commissioners of the city who can attend.

They’ll also display some photos of what the area around City Hall used to look like. The city purchased the site along the river from members of the Hill family. The area once was a major shipping terminal for grain along the Santa Fe Railway, and was the production site for the once-famous Jenny Wren flour. But by 1978, when the city began construction of City Hall, all that was just a memory — and an eyesore.

The flour plant closed around World War II, and the grain elevator closed sometime in the 1960s, said Stephen Hill, who was an owner of the property. His family’s Lawrence Paper Company also had left the site, and the Bowersock Mills and Power Co. was one of the few businesses that really operated on the property.

“People have no idea that area once was the industrial heart of Lawrence,” Hill said.

Today, people may squabble over whether City Hall is the heart of downtown. But it certainly is a magnet, even if it is just to pay your water bill.

“City Hall is a destination,” said Mayor Mike Amyx, who owns a barber shop downtown. “It brings a lot of people to downtown. I’m sure glad that we had people with vision who saw the importance of putting that building there.”

Hill said a lot of the credit should go to former City Manager Buford Watson. Hill said Watson pushed for the site as a way to kickstart the northern end of downtown, which at that time had no Free State Brewery or trendy restaurants or boutiques. Instead, it mainly was home to an old bus station that Schumm said could best be described as “scuzzy.”

“Buford Watson was a political genius,” Hill said. “He and the City Commission at that time made some very far-reaching and bold moves to clean up that whole part of town. And I’d say they have paid off.”

Comments

Frank A Janzen 7 years, 8 months ago

I liked that "old bus station" which is now the Free State. It was very convenient to be able to get a bus downtown and to come and go from there, and then to walk back to my apartment up on Oread Avenue...another thing of the past. Now to get a bus, you have to take a taxi out to west 6th Street.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 8 months ago

Good questions, none2, The reasons the grain elevators closed was due to the fact that farmers didn't have to haul their grain into the center of town any more due to the fact that there were grain elevators built on the south side of Lawrence and in North Lawrence. So with no grain, no flour mill. Milling has become more and more centralized, so that almost no milling takes place at any elevators any more, but, fortunately, with the revitalized farmer's markets and focusing on local food production, things are coming full circle. There are now several small mills in Kansas and Missouri again, producing fresh flour for local consumption, and you can get some of them at the Merc. Archie Mills used to have one here in Lawrence in the 70s, but that eventually shut down, but who knows? I think it would be very cool to have another one pop up and provide high quality, locally milled flour again here.

Rich Rodgers 7 years, 8 months ago

I'll agree that this country has a big problem in that we don't produce anything any more. A "service based" economy just doesn't seem like a long term good idea. Although I'm no economist and don't have any brilliant ideas on how to fix things other than simply make something people want.. i also don't see the closing of a mill to be symptomatic necessarily.

Chengdu808 7 years, 8 months ago

City Hall and the Riverfront Mall seem isolated from the rest of downtown by the block-long Journal World building. That area seems like a dead space in the 600 blocks of Mass and New Hampshire.

Bob_Keeshan 7 years, 8 months ago

This is ridiculous.

Building a government building stimulated economic development? Impossible.

cowboy 7 years, 8 months ago

build a public building on a site without parking , stuck in a corner so you can't expand it , Brilliant !

Miles Nease 7 years, 8 months ago

To further enhance the north entry to downtown, the city needs to tear down the massive grain elevator in north Lawrence. At the very least, slap a coat of paint on the old gal. This eyesore is the first thing people see when they get off the turnpike. To make matters worse, the grain elevator is located next to the visitor center. The sight of a rusted out grain elevator sure would convince me to spend my tourism dollars in Lawrence.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 8 months ago

Paint, sure. Tear it down? Why? Does it offend your urban sensibilities? Do you not like to be associated with anything rural? Well, excuse me, sir! We wouldn't want to look different from any other suburb on the planet! There's lots of other places surrounding any city you like where you can run and go to sleep and never have to think about dirt again..

Ken Lassman 7 years, 8 months ago

I'd have to agree about the size of the City Hall meeting room--it was purposely designed to be actually smaller than the old First National Bank room where they met before in order to discourage the public from coming down and watching the proceedings. That's reserved for the folks with money, not public interest!

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years, 8 months ago

The location of the new city hall was a matter of great contention at the time it was built. The "Beautiful Downtown Lawrence" crowd managed to get the then also clueless-gutless-beholden to their sign purchasing supporters to locate this government building in this stupid location. They were fervently fighting the dreaded and defiled "cornfiled mall" and advanced the theory that if this building were located in any other location, that commercial development would occur around it (like south Iowa street). The were violently against any mall development or commercial development anywhere in the city except in "Beautiful Downtown Lawrence" (i.e. "Aggieville East"). More bars, Joe College Shops were the result, and commercial development on South Iowa bloomed, i.e. Wal Mart, K Mart (there used to be one there) Target, Sears, Pennys, on and on and on. Then there was the great "Riverfront Mall" a neat idea of the city commision at the time to bring "retail development" to Beautiful Downtown Larryville. It turned out to be an "outlet mall", that is, a place that would put up items for sale that could not/did not sell anywhere else, say for instance, a real shopping development. It is now a home for Sunflower Cablevision, who I now understand is owned by some outfit in Georgia.

Yes, the riverbottom City Hall has been a real inspiration to the citizens of Lawrence. An inspiration to pay more attention to the people you elect to the city commission and don't fall for the yard sign proliferation, you need to know who these people are and who is supporting them Our city would be far better with officials who are not sold out to the yard sign crowd and people who could actually represent the real interests of this community.

Mark Kostner 7 years, 8 months ago

Most downtowns around the United States died, although some have come back, mostly in college towns and tourist areas. Downtown Lawrence never went away and keeps getting better with age. I hope it grows, maybe takes over what are now parking lots. Ironically, the latest trend in shopping is to create a faux downtown to look like a downtown Lawrence.

Soup2Nuts 7 years, 8 months ago

Talk about cutting corners, City Hall leaders who demand sprinkler systems in businesses and apartments does not even have a sprinkler system itself. And try making a delivery to that poorly-designed building at the so-called "loading dock". Many larger trucks have to block a lane of traffic to deliver anything to this forward-thinking facility. And convenient free parking for patrons of City Hall?....don't get me started.

Curtis Martell 7 years, 8 months ago

All of you should move out of Lawrence and start your own city if this one is so messed up.

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