Some problems are good to have. That seems to be the case at the former Carnegie Library building at Ninth and Vermont streets.
The city has done a fine job of restoring the important public building and once again making it functional. In fact, it appears the building has become such an asset that there is some friction over who should use it and at what price.
As we previously reported, the city recently raised the fee it charges to rent the facility on weekends by more than $400 after some private banquet business complained the city’s rate was below fair market value.
Also, some concerns were expressed about whether the facility can function both as a banquet facility and as a home for the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area. The group that runs the heritage area has its offices in the lower level of the building, and work on the building’s main floor to create permanent displays highlighting the region’s history will be completed in May. Whether the facility can serve as a visitors center for the heritage area and a banquet hall for weddings and other events is a legitimate question.
In the short term, the answer is probably yes. But as a community, we should hope that the heritage area’s uses for the building grow to the point that there is room to do little else. Douglas County has a real opportunity to establish itself as the birthplace of the Civil War. In the late 1850s, the eyes of America were fixated on eastern Kansas and western Missouri. A great question hung over the country. The events that would take place in the hills and valleys surrounding Lawrence would go far in answering it: Would the institution of slavery embark on a westward march?
It did not. It was here that slavery met its brick wall.
It is important on many levels for Lawrence and the rest of the federal heritage area to tell that story and other stories related to the search for freedom. Being the center of Freedom’s Frontier could be a tremendous tourism boon for the local economy, but just as importantly, it is a strong reminder of the foundation upon which this city was built.
Promoting Freedom’s Frontier is an appropriate core mission for the Carnegie building. At least for now, the building also can serve as a rental space for various local events. However, if interest and activities related to Freedom’s Frontier eventually take over the former library it would be a positive development for Lawrence and the surrounding area.