At one time, not too many years ago, Lawrence was a city that other communities wanted to emulate. It was “on fire” and looked to as a city of opportunities. The city and Kansas University combined to provide an environment of excitement, optimism, enthusiasm and forward thinking.
Unfortunately, that fire and imagination have died. Only a few infrequent sparks remain of what once defined the city.
The headline out of Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission meeting could have read: “What’s new?”
Once again, the city turned down an opportunity to attract a major retailer that would have provided employment opportunities, increased tax revenues for the city and an attractive building in the Bauer Farms development on West Sixth Street. Lowe’s is considered one of the nation’s blue-ribbon retailers in the big-box category and would have attracted new shoppers to Lawrence.
The cards were stacked against Lowe’s when the city planning staff recommended the project be denied. For example, at Tuesday’s meeting, a city official said he could not think of any commercial development in Lawrence that was bigger than the 600,000-square-foot node that the addition of Lowe’s would create at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive, apparently conveniently forgetting more than 2 million square feet of development in the 31st and Iowa area and approximately 1.3 million square feet in Lawrence’s downtown.
For several reasons, proponents of the Lowe’s project were unable to make a complete presentation showing the uniqueness and attractiveness of their proposal. Even so, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference.
The end result was that Lawrence lost Lowe’s, at least for the present time.
On the surface, Lawrence looks like a great retail market. In this case, the Lawrence site was one of only two locations between Chicago and New Mexico that officials had approved for a new store.
How long will it be before Lawrence and KU again stand out as an exciting, forward-looking, enthusiastic and welcoming combination with excellent visionary leadership?
In the meantime, how many opportunities will have passed by?