Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories, looking ahead to 2010.
Mayor Rob Chestnut is preparing for a grueling half-mile in 2010.
“Some people may be thinking the economy next year will break out like a sprint, but I think it is going to be more like one of those middle-distance races,” Chestnut said. “I think we’ll see positive momentum, but I think it may not be until the second half of the year.”
That has city leaders planning to do lots of strategizing early in 2010 about how to take advantage of the economy once it improves. City Manager David Corliss said his staff will focus on acquiring the former Farmland Industries plant to convert the nearly 500-acre piece of property into a business park.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to acquire the Farmland property, and that this will be the year where people will notice some real physical changes out there,” Corliss said.
But other economic development work also will be under way. Work to install a new water line to the Lawrence Municipal Airport has begun, and a study on how to add city sewer service to the airport will soon be discussed.
“We believe we’re going to have that property in much better shape for economic development opportunities,” Corliss said.
Early in 2010, the city also plans to finalize a joint purchase with the county of a west Lawrence laboratory building designed to serve as a place for promising bioscience companies to locate. Construction on a new bioscience incubator on Kansas University’s West Campus also is expected to be completed in 2010.
“I think here in the last few months we have had a few more economic development activities to look at than we have seen in recent years,” Chestnut said. “I think we’re staging ourselves for a much better year.”
Several other issues also are expected to get plenty of attention at City Hall in 2010. They include:
• A proposal for a new homeless shelter location. The Lawrence Community Shelter has proposed building a new shelter at the former Don’s Steakhouse site on East 23rd Street. Chestnut said he hopes to reach a decision on that proposal in the first 90 to 120 days of the year.
• A decision on Parks and Recreation projects. The city is studying whether it ought to build a new recreation facility with money that will be freed up once the city’s Indoor Aquatics Center is paid off at the end of 2010. If commissioners decide they want to reinvest the money back into Parks and Recreation, the discussion likely will center on whether the city should build a new outdoor recreation complex or pursue a new recreation center/fieldhouse project.
“The challenge will be that not everybody will get what they want,” Chestnut said. “But we hope we will have done a good job of understanding what the needs are, what the opportunities are, and where we can maybe leverage some sort of public-private partnership.”
• Work on major planning efforts for the city’s water and sewer service. Corliss said a water master plan already is underway, and he will be asking commissioners to approve work on a new wastewater master plan as well. The two plans will spell out what improvements need to be made to the city’s water and sewer systems, and also will set the basis for how rates need to be adjusted in the future.
• Creation of a new downtown task force. The task force likely would study public safety issues related to downtown, and also ways to improve the downtown retail environment. Chestnut said he wants some information gathered on the possibility of creating a retail incubator that would help small retail businesses get started in Lawrence.
Keeping a close eye on city revenues also will be a major task for commissioners, said Commissioner Mike Amyx, who if tradition holds would become the city’s mayor in April.
Amyx said he has been impressed with the city’s ability to not increase the property tax mill levy and to hold service cuts to a minimum in 2009.
“I think the community has worked together to get through a lot of shortfalls in the last year,” Amyx said. “Staff really has spent a lot of time making sure that we live within our budget. We’ll have to do that again next year.”