Downtown approach

Patience may not be enough to preserve Lawrence’s attractive downtown.

April 6, 2011


It’s natural and should be the goal for most any community to have its central business district be healthy, attractive and inviting.

Those who have lived in Lawrence for some time are well aware of the extended debate some years ago about a “cornfield mall” proposed for South Iowa Street along with subsequent proposals for a major mall development in downtown Lawrence. Both plans were rejected as a means of protecting downtown.

Today, there are more retail stores on South Iowa Street than were proposed in the rejected blueprint for a cornfield mall. In fact, there is more retail business in that area than in the entire downtown.

This matter has been brought to the forefront by a recent statement by Dean Palos, a former Lawrence city planner who played a role in preserving or protecting Lawrence’s cramped and historic downtown in the 1970s an early ’80s.

In a Topeka news story, Palos, now director of planning for Johnson County, recalled the differing opinions about Lawrence’s downtown. He was in Topeka to discuss the revitalization of that city’s downtown.

Palos said, “There’s no silver bullet. There’s no one thing to do. It’s better to go slow and incrementally. You have to be patient. Lawrence is a testament to people to be patient.”

He added, “There was a lot of dissension in Lawrence. Lawrence went through a long time of fractured relationships. But there was a strong sense of self-preservation.”

Palos said Lawrence decided downtown would remain the core of retail business for the city and Douglas County.

This may have been the goal in the 1970s and ’80s, but it would be wrong today to suggest that downtown is the retail “core” of Lawrence.

In many respects, Lawrence faces the same challenges today that it did 30 or so years ago. It continues to struggle to keep downtown attractive, vibrant, safe and lined with successful retail businesses. There are too many vacancies. Too many once-sound businesses are closing or moving to other locations.

Downtown Lawrence does not have the space or parking to accommodate even one large “box” store, like those located on South Iowa. That being the case, downtown needs to provide a different shopping draw. One way to do that is to attract stores that offer products and services not found in the usual large shopping area, often dominated by retail chains, stores that make shopping in downtown Lawrence fun both for local residents and for people from out of town.

New residential projects may increase downtown’s vitality and boost the need for some businesses that provide basic services. Again, there isn’t room for a major supermarket, but how about a good deli or maybe a Walgreen’s or CVS that offers a broad variety of basic merchandise?

City officials have used various tactics to protect the downtown business district, and Massachusetts Street has been designated by one magazine as one of the nation’s best.

Nevertheless, downtown Lawrence is not posting the retail sales it once enjoyed, and there is no room for complacency. Just how long will it take for Palos’ “patience” to produce the desired results in downtown Lawrence?


somebodynew 6 years, 10 months ago

Two things in the way (imho): Rent - the small businesses that you describe cannot turn a profit and therefore don't stick around long.

Bar - it is where the money is at, and everyplace going in wants to cater to the bar crowd (for late night). The other stores have to cater to the visitors who want to see Massachusetts St.

I do think a good deli, drug store, mini-grocery store would work, IF they can keep prices reasonable so that it not cheaper just to drive to Dillons to get your stuff.

Kookamooka 6 years, 10 months ago

There was a revitalization grant in Topeka a few years ago that would "pay" people to bring businesses to their downtown. So...a new business wouldn't have to pay rent.

smarty_pants 6 years, 10 months ago

Get rid of the aggressive panhandling bums in downtown.

1southernjayhawk 6 years, 10 months ago

you may not like it, oneeye, but he is following the rule and intent of the law. I'd say its just being smart.

Keith 6 years, 10 months ago

Whine whine whine. Just raise the rent in the Oread neighborhood and spend more time in Scottsdale. Please.

moveforward 6 years, 10 months ago

Close Mass from 6th to 11th and route traffic one way onto N Hampshire and Vermont... make it pedestrian focused. Build two more parking lots and preserve the nature of the commerce. It's not like you need mini-marts, gas stations, best buys and grocery stores downtown anyway.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 10 months ago

I floated this idea a few months ago, thinking it was a good one. Several people responded with examples where it worked well and an equal number gave examples where it was a disaster. Anyway, I still like the idea. Sidewalk eateries could expand as foot traffic moves into the street. Merchants could display items on the sidewalks. Maybe even put a small trolley car line going right down the middle of the street with connections to the parking garages (which then could be a block or two off Mass. St.).

whitecho 6 years, 10 months ago

Sometimes it amuses me to see people try to one-up each other in these posts. Sometimes is now. Keep 'em coming boys, err fellas.

I'd like to see a good, clean fight. No sucker punches & keep it above the belt!

Noweigh 6 years, 10 months ago

Consumer1......well said and completely agree. Downtown merchants (retailers in particular) have been given every opportunity (and advantage) to not only succeed but to be the focal point of the community. They continue to have infighting amongst merchants who can't ever agree on a more competitive marketing and business strategy to attract more customers. How about actually staying open late like the successful, evil "national" retailers for starters? Take a lesson or two from them. And how about the parking meters...that may be a negotiation with the city but making consumers "pay" for shopping downtown?? Fresh thinking is really needed for downtown to succeed long term.

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