News and notes from around town:
• You’ve heard how the early bird gets the worm. Well, here’s a case where the early bride gets the deal. As we previously reported, a local catering company raised some concerns about the rates the city was charging for rentals at the newly renovated Carnegie building at Ninth and Vermont. Steve Maceli — owner of the catering and event hall Maceli’s at 1031 N.H. — said the city’s $525 rental rate for the main floor of the Carnegie didn’t reflect a true market rate for rental halls in Lawrence.
Well, the city’s rate has now changed. Parks and Recreation officials confirmed that in late March they raised the Saturday rental rates for the Carnegie from $525 for a six-hour event to $900. Folks that already had reserved the space get to keep it at the old rates.
Business had been very good under the old rate system. The department had taken 162 bookings at the facility — including 22 wedding receptions — since it began accepting reservations late last year. The department hasn’t yet made any bookings with the new rate system, but officials said that may be coincidental.
“It is probably too early to tell how the new rate will impact reservations,” said Tim Laurent, who oversees the facility for parks and recreation.
The rate issue looked like it perhaps was going to be an interesting discussion at City Hall. While Maceli had argued the Carnegie’s rates were unfair to private businesses, I had one commissioner express a different perspective. City Commissioner Mike Amyx told me that the city needed to be careful about how much it charged the public. He said the city should be encouraging the public to use the building, since the public has provided quite a bit of funding for the more than $1 million renovation of the facility. Amyx said the city needed to charge a fee to cover its costs to open the facility for events, but shouldn’t necessarily require the public to pay more than that. I thought the issue might end up being an interesting philosophical discussion at a future City Commission meeting. But the issue of rates never made it to the commission. The rates were changed administratively.
• There is another issue brewing at the Carnegie building. Issues are beginning to emerge about how the building will be used both as a reception hall and the home of an exhibit highlighting the region’s role in the Civil War. The lower level of the Carnegie is used as office space for the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area. Plans also have called for parts of the main floor to be used to house a permanent display related to Freedom’s Frontier. That display is scheduled to be installed in late May. Parks and Recreation officials said they’ve been told that Freedom’s Frontier officials plan to have the exhibit open for the public to view from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. Freedom’s Frontier officials do not want events taking place on the main floor during those hours. Parks and Recreation leaders said they are hoping to negotiate a deal with Freedom’s Frontier that would allow events to occur during those hours. Otherwise, they’re concerned the facility’s rental usage — especially on weekdays and Sundays — will decline significantly. Several City Hall leaders have made it clear that they want Lawrence to be the center for the new Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, which stretches across eastern Kansas and Western Missouri. But City Hall also wants to see more people come downtown, which Parks and Recreation officials say is happening by hosting events in the Carnegie.
• In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I was at the Parks and Recreation board meeting on Tuesday morning. So, one more parks and rec item: Tennis fans hoping for lights at the new tennis complex at Lawrence High probably will have to hope a little longer. Parks and Recreation leader Ernie Shaw said the department hasn’t figured out a good way to install lights at the courts without creating significant issues for neighbors.
“We’re kind of at a standstill,” Shaw said. “I don’t know that we’re going to be able to do anything at that facility.”
Members of the Lawrence Tennis Association previously have sought lights at the facility, so that they could use the courts to hold their league play events. The Parks and Recreation Department does operate six lighted courts scattered throughout town, but it does not have a large facility that is lighted.
Shaw said the department has looked into creating a partnership to install lights at the outdoor courts of the Jayhawk Tennis Facility, 5200 Clinton Parkway. But Shaw said he’s unsure that partnership would work because he doesn’t think Jayhawk is interested in letting members of the public use the lighted courts for free. Thus, he’s not sure how city commissioners would feel about spending money to install lights at the courts.
Shaw said he’s now waiting for new ideas to emerge.
“We do expect the issue is going to be brought back up again,” he said.
• It looks like it will be a summer without the Downtown Lawrence Film Festival. Downtown Lawrence Inc. director Cathy Hamilton told me that the group hasn’t been able to find a downtown location to show outdoor films this season. Previously, the festival — which featured old, family-friendly films — showed the movies in the vacant lot at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. But a new seven-story office, apartment and retail building is being built on that site. Hamilton said she looked at the smaller vacant lot just south of the Eldridge Hotel, but its gravel surface and noise from exhaust fans from the hotel made it a less than ideal spot.
“Everything that we found is just not large enough or there is too much concrete, which doesn’t work well on a summer evening,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton — who is relatively new to the position — said she will work to find a location for Summer 2012.