11:07 a.m. update
Chad's closing the discussion by asking each of the men here what they'd like to see in downtown Lawrence.
Paley: Events. More and more people have come down and enjoyed them, but we need more, different events downtown, bringing more people down here.
Reineman: More retail. More parking. First choice would be to see a CVS pharmacy or a Walgreens.
Compton: The more family-friendly we can make it, the better. We have to keep our focus on the balance of what we give people when we bring them downtown. Wants to see a grocery store or a market come downtown. His focus, if he develops other side of 9th and New Hampshire, is to get some sort of market.
Schumm: More people living downtown. Also, more engagement with the arts community so we have either an art retail center or otherwise support our local artists in downtown.
The conversation has turned to incentives, and whether we need incentives to develop downtown Lawrence.
Reineman and Paley lead off saying we have to identify the right incentives and right opportunities using incentives.
Some redevelopments can't be done without public incentives, the group agreed.
Chad asks whether rebating property taxes — something that has become more popular recently — is going to be the way we get downtown redevelopment projects done.
Paley says he thinks most residents do not want an entertainment-only downtown. And if you begin looking longer term, he says, incentives are one way to make sure that downtown maintains a good mix of entertainment, business and retail.
Schumm says that Lawrence tourism usually is keyed either to KU or downtown. If we let downtown go down, or become strictly an entertainment district, we'll hate ourselves.
Schumm said when he went door-to-door campaigning, mostly west of Iowa Street, the comments he heard most were fix the infrastructure — roads and the like — and make sure you preserve downtown. He senses a lot of interest in keeping the area whole.
"The real key (to downtown's future) is a balance between restaurants, a balance between bars, a balance between retail," Reineman said. "The community needs to keep an eye on that balance."
Moving from that discussion, Chad asked about parking. There's discussion of expanding the size of the new library parking garage even further.
"We need more parking downtown," Reineman said. "There's a perception among people that there's not parking when you come downtown. We need to do everything we can to alleviate that perception."
Paley said there are plenty of parking garages in Iowa City, and it makes it easier to find parking. Reineman says the success of downtown starts with parking.
Compton said there have been discussions dating back to the 80s about parking.
Schumm said that he's in favor of maxing out the available parking at the library.
"This is the one opportunity we have to put in a number of new spaces to support the north end of downtown," Schumm said.
Schumm pointed out that this garage will support the library, the pool and the senior center.
The consensus is that Lawrence has to max out the number of available parking spots that can be added at the library parking garage.
10:46 a.m. update
Schumm makes the point that "once you lose your retail, it's gone for good."
Now, retail is often being pushed out by entertainment. But it hasn't always been that way.
In the 80s, when city leaders were trying to figure out how to improve downtown, they focused on getting more entertainment.
"That really took off well."
Schumm said restaurants have taken off so well because people see the crowds and think they have to eat or drink. But he doesn't expect much more growth in restaurants downtown.
"We've hit the saturation point. Any new restaurants are going to cannibalize from existing ones," Schumm said.
The new downtown task force is going to look at whether there's an ideal mix of businesses downtown, and whether the city should do anything to preserve that mix, Schumm said. Compton said in some communities, cities limit the number of liquor licenses available downtown.
10:39 a.m. update
Based on Schumm's comments, the discussion migrated toward hours.
Paley said he never kept his store open late, but some people it's really beneficial for.
Reineman says if Weaver's felt they could be profitable by staying open late, they would. But right now, they can't.
Compton said one of his tenants, Buckle, does a big portion of its business after 5 p.m.
10:36 a.m. update
Chad started to ask about whether it was an advantage or disadvantage that downtown Lawrence is not a major home for national retailers.
Paley said that when the economy went south, national retailers started shutting stores. But they'll be back, he said.
Schumm said he's talked to national retailers before, and they don't like downtowns. Plus, they don't like dealing with non-professional real estate developers.
"It's a formula that has worked over and over for them," Schumm said. "We don't have consistent store hours — we've tried — but that's what they're looking for."
Reineman points out that many national retailers in downtown Lawrence have not been high performers. He says Lawrence isn't yet a large community. As we continue to grow, we'll be able to support those sort of stores, he said.
Reineman also pointed out that another problem is the 7,000 or so cars who leave Lawrence every day for jobs in Topeka or Kansas City.
"As we talk about the health of downtown, we need to talk about the jobs we have in Lawrence," he said.
10:31 a.m. update
Compton says property taxes and property values downtown are the biggest impediment to doing deals.
Schumm said the only way that will change is a market correction — as sale prices go down, values will go down and property taxes will go down.
Chad asked about why the parking garage development at 10th and New Hampshire didn't generate more activity.
Schumm said that what Lawrence had going for it, "being a real downtown" became less of an exlusive advantage as the Legends and Zona Rosa developed along the same lines of downtown.
Reineman also pointed out that South Iowa Street developed along the same timeline.
10:25 a.m. update
Chad asked specifically about closing down streets permanently, specifically mentioning 8th Street, which is closed often.
Schumm said he'd be willing to consider it, or at least take public comment.
Reineman said he'd love to have a gathering place in downtown, but he's not eager to close streets. He thinks that would contribute to the misperception that it's hard to get around downtown.
Paley said it would be hard to close any of Massachusetts Street, and Schumm made it abundantly clear he had no interest in closing any of Mass, but he thinks it could work to close 8th Street, and change 7th or 10th streets to help aid traffic flow.
Compton said he knows people like having a gathering place. He said he got beat up over eliminating the wall where downtown played movies during the summer.
10:21 a.m. update
Paley complimented Weaver's for being price competitive with business around town, and for being able to endure through good times and bad.
Schumm said "any wholesome activity that puts people on the streets is good for downtown."
Reineman said "we're a youthful, active community and we have a youthful, active downtown. You go to a lot of other downtowns, and they're a ghost town."
Schumm said that there are a hundred different ways to encourage people to come downtown at more hours of the day. And when there are more people, they're like a magnet for even more people.
Paley highlighted Iowa City's downtown as one that's been interesting. He even pointed out that they've closed a couple of blocks permanently and there are kids who love it.
10:14 a.m. update
Paley, who walked in a couple minutes late and is just getting into the conversation, said he's had to cut his rental rates to fill his buildings up. He also said that it's important to maintain a critical mass of retailers.
"I feel like I've had my good times," he said. "Now my tenants are just beating me up."
Compton said he has two meetings this week with existing tenants to discuss how he can keep them.
Reineman said, as a retailer, the cost of doing business has just skyrocketed.
10:08 a.m. update
Compton said he's been able to lease out his most recent building, "perhaps because of how aggressive we've been on rent."
Schumm said the market sales price of buildings downtown has probably topped out, and might have even started to come down. Compton said that will enable landlords to charge lower rents.
"I think concessions are being made, probably more concessions that have been made in the past," he said.
Compton said that while rents have come down, construction costs have not. Schumm said that the Borders building is on sale for 25 or 50 percent of what you'd have to charge, just to cover your costs, on new construction.
Reineman and Schumm both said that banks are being much more cautious, which makes it very hard for landlords to buy buildings and entrepreneurial retailers to start new businesses.
Schumm also pointed out that online retailing is making a bigger impact on retail every year. He said state leaders could do something — charge sales tax — to even it out, but that would only accomplish so much.
10:02 a.m. update
All of the participants today say that the future of downtown will be tied to all of the other types of businesses that downtown residents would need: grocery stores, pharmacies and the like.
They agreed it will take more residents than will come with Compton's building, but Reineman said it's an "incremental" step forward.
Reineman also said that it will be crucial to strengthen surrounding neighborhoods.
Chad asked about the high profile closings that have hit downtown recently. Maurice's, Arensburg, Border's, Penny Annie's and Bay Leaf.
Schumm reminded everyone that jut a few decades ago, all the car dealerships and a couple of grocery stores were downtown. They closed, but other businesses filled in.
Schumm said it's crucial that we take those advantages as an opportunity to redevelop.
Reineman said he was more concerned by the wave of retail closings because, as a retailer, he wants to be located near other retailers.
"We want potential shoppers — the people who live in South Lawrence or West Lawrence to think of downtown when they think of going shopping," he said. "For downtown retail to flourish, we need a lot of retailers downtown."
9:58 a.m. update
Doug Compton weighed in that Treanor Architects coming to downtown is a big deal. Reineman says the more people that work and live downtown, "that's the key for downtown."
Schumm said Compton's development at 9th and New Hampshire is the best thing that's happened to downtown in 10 years.
Schumm says the reason Compton's development is so much better even than Hobbs-Taylor is that 9th and New Hampshire will include rentals and other property that will have year-round residents. Hobbs-Taylor has many residents who just use it for visiting.
Compton also said he's heard a lot of interest in the vacant Border's building.
9:54 a.m. update
We're gathered in the parlor of the News Center with City Commissioner Bob Schumm, developer Doug Compton, Weaver's vice president Earl Reineman and landlord George Paley.
Chad Lawhorn will be moderating the discussion and I will be keeping the online discussion going.
Chad opened up the discussion with a question about how healthy is downtown. The general consensus: it's been rough, but it's getting better.
"Downtown in a comeback phase," Reineman said.
Bob Schumm said he was worried about number of vacancies last year.
"But now I see that there are vacancies all over Lawrence, and all over the country, really," he said.