Archive for Monday, June 13, 2011

Downtown debate

Finding ways to accommodate more special events seems like a good way to provide added vitality to Lawrence’s downtown.

June 13, 2011


We thought parties were supposed to be fun. But when it comes to organizing festivities in Downtown Lawrence and using city streets as a venue for those events, there’s a growing difference of opinion that is spoiling much of the excitement.

The issue showed itself again last Tuesday when city commissioners on a 3-2 vote agreed to close Massachusetts Street from North Park Street to South Park Street for much of a Saturday in October to accommodate a benefit car show.

The idea was opposed by Downtown Lawrence Inc. and the two city commissioners — Mike Amyx and Bob Schumm — who own businesses on Massachusetts Street. But to organizers and many members of the public, the idea made some sense. The car show would bring to downtown numerous participants and spectators who might not otherwise have a reason to be downtown. Plus, a car show is a leisurely event that would give all involved ample time to shop and eat at downtown establishments.

But a group of merchants — many of them longtime merchants who do have a good feel for how downtown functions — are convinced that closing any section of Massachusetts Street for an extended period on a Saturday is bad for business. It is uncomfortable to disagree with experienced business owners, but it does not seem like closing this portion of Massachusetts Street should have a major impact on shoppers wanting to get downtown. This stretch of Massachusetts provides no parking for retailers, and for motorists who happen upon the closed street, one to two extra blocks of driving is all that would be required to skirt around the closure. The city could help by providing proper signs.

The trio of commissioners who approved this request appropriately questioned whether downtown merchants as a whole are against such street closures. A representative with Big Brothers Big Sisters — the nonprofit that will receive the proceeds of the car show — went door-to-door to about 25 downtown establishments. Representatives with 22 of the businesses signed a petition supporting the car show and the street closure.

As commissioners noted, DLI did not poll its membership on the issue. That’s unfortunate. DLI needs to grow its membership base and be in a better position to authoritatively represent downtown’s interests.

That will be a tall task, but every effort should be made to get all the interests of downtown — the variety of businesses, property owners and, increasingly, residents — better aligned. Downtown needs to figure out a way to keep its independent spirit but cooperate better on major issues.

In the meantime, city leaders should use the October car show to test the impact of closing that portion of Massachusetts Street for an event. South Park is a beautiful location that seems well-positioned to host many future events that could increase the vibrancy of downtown.


BigPrune 6 years, 9 months ago

Isn't Art in the Park already a good gauge for determining if closing Mass is a detriment to business? If it isn't a good thing, they could always move it to the parking garage as long as the City moves out its enitre level used for City vehicles.

Schumm and Amyx should ALWAYS recuse themselves since they have downtown conflicts ($90,000 in flowers for downtown at taxpayer expense, sprinkler system for properties at taxpayer expense according to one JW article, the new library with parking garage, etc - not that they both were office holders and voted on these things, but they have benefitted or will benefit at the citizens' expense). It would be the honorable and ethical thing to do.

grimpeur 6 years, 9 months ago

"They hurt business because customers are generally a lazy lot who would just as soon have a drive-thru in every retail establishment in town as walk any farther than a few steps. Before anyone argues, I have three commissioners proving my point."

Fixt for ya.

Can't find a place to park within 2 blocks of Mass? Then you're just not trying very hard. At all.

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

Either way.

Demanding that customers work harder in order to frequent your business is a bad move.

nativeson 6 years, 9 months ago

It is important to consider merchant issues when using city steets for events. But, it is not call the public right-of-way by chance. The public pays for it, and all 90,000 residents have a voice in how it is used.

Merchants benefit directly from taxpayer investment in our downtown. They need to realize that the sidewalk in front of their business is not theirs exclusively to control. If they want that control, then develop a business where the sidewalk in front of their business is private property that they pay for and maintain.

pizzapete 6 years, 9 months ago

The car show is something that will bring me downtown and when I'm there I'll most likely stay for some food and possibly a beer or two. I think downtown could benefit from more events like this.

LogicMan 6 years, 9 months ago

I like car shows as much as the next being, but why couldn't it have been held in South Park or at the fairgrounds?

somebodynew 6 years, 9 months ago

Uh, Logic - - it IS being held in South Park, hence closing Mass. St. which runs down the middle of it. And it probably could be held at the Fairgrounds, but then noone would go downtown which would really hurt the merchants.

LogicMan 6 years, 9 months ago

Off, on the grass, maybe on the east side and its side street. So not needing to close Mass. And on the other side's grass, etc., if needed. No need to shut the road, just maybe some crossing guards.

antney 6 years, 9 months ago

Schumm and Amyx are self interested blockers! We should close downtown traffic more often if not permanently.

Downtown Boulder has a thriving downtown that is pedestrian friendly complete with street performers and startup cart businesses everywhere. And the kids love it.

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

And other towns/cities have found that pedestrian malls kill their downtown.

it's risky.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 9 months ago

Lawrence,Kansas is not Boulder,Colorado...

I say if downtown wants some $$$$$$ impact the events should be held IN downtown Lawrence not on the south end of Downtown Lawrence.

South Park is beautiful but so is Downtown Lawrence proper. There are no retail attractions in South Park. Two of the primary objectives are retail sales and sales tax revenue.

Holding events in downtown Lawrence proper aka on Mass street say the 700 0r 800 block allows the traffic into the downtown area proper.

This is something downtown Lawrence should examine for about 12-18 months to get an accurate reading. Of course the impact would depend on the type of event.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 9 months ago

Most of the success will of course rely on marketing. Crowds are NOT going to rush here simply because something is happening in downtown Lawrence. Marketing Marketing Marketing!

Once Lawrence,Kansas attracts a ton more foot traffic aka shopping tourists then we look at more retailers.

Lawrence needs some powerful marketing agent with a ton of experience and references which I doubt can be found locally. Then the micro managers should step aside.

Is there a concert planned at Liberty Hall that might attract auto show people?

Are there sales planned to partner the event? A fun sidewalk sale perhaps?

Make every downtown event a carnival/sidewalk sale then let marketing marketing marketing bring the tourists.

America loves to shop,eat, have fun and dance all at the same time.

Has Lawrence become too conservative? A question I hear from time to time.

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