A cool beverage, good music and a fun-loving crowd can be a great trio. But what can make it better? Evidently, having all three in the middle of a downtown street.
Requests to close downtown streets for events — everything from charity fundraisers to college street carnivals — have become more common at Lawrence City Hall. For a time, their approval also had become fairly routine. But with a new City Commission in place, more questions have been raised about the soundness of closing downtown streets for events. In particular, Commissioners Mike Amyx and Bob Schumm, both of whom own downtown businesses, have been voicing concerns about closing portions of Massachusetts Street.
They raise legitimate issues. Amyx and Schumm say that some retailers don’t benefit that much from events but do suffer by having vehicle access to their stores severely limited by a street closure. But the remaining three commissioners also bring up good points. Downtown businesses benefit every day from the vibrancy of downtown, and some commissioners rightly argue that events help create that sense of vibrancy.
What’s called for here is a meeting of the minds. Approving an event for downtown should not become a Tuesday evening event at City Hall. As new City Commissioner Hugh Carter said, these should be easy decisions for commissioners to make.
But they won’t be easy decisions to make unless all the stakeholders of downtown come together and reach agreement on what type of events provide an overall benefit to the downtown. There would be many options for the group to consider. Perhaps it is best for downtown street events to be held on a side street. Eighth Street has hosted many successful events, but it would be important to get feedback from the businesses along that street. Maybe Massachusetts Street events should be limited to Sundays only, or perhaps that street is so important that only one or two “signature” events a year should be allowed on the main thoroughfare.
One idea that does not seem like a good one is to hold more events in Watson Park. Many of these events have music and alcohol. It seems that placing such events in Watson Park on a routine basis would be asking for a whole new set of problems, especially considering the park is adjacent to the Old West Lawrence neighborhood and sandwiched between two major north-south streets.
Input should be gathered from retailers, restaurants, downtown offices and the growing number of residents who call downtown home. There will never be unanimity, but surely downtown interests can work together well enough to reach a consensus on how events can benefit downtown.
Such consensus would give city commissioners more confidence in approving future events. It also would be a great first step in downtown perhaps reaching consensus on other important issues such as retail hours.