Event guidance

City and downtown officials need to reach some sort of consensus on when and where to accommodate special downtown events.

May 15, 2011


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.


fizzrat 6 years, 4 months ago

"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"

Old West Lawrence has its share of stiffs and busybodies. I lived there for three years (rented) and lots of people there pried into me, my business, and my lifestyle. I liked the neighborhood but not the neighbors. If they are not happy with the life going on around them they should pack up and move farther out west to the distant, anonymous suburbs. A thriving downtown would irk some of these fuddy-duddies but be good for the city as a whole...

jafs 6 years, 4 months ago

The other way to think of it, of course, is that if you don't like the neighbors, you should move.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 4 months ago

Why not try 8 events on Mass Street in the coming twelve months? How can Lawrence know until some effort has been put forth?

It seems keeping foot traffic primarily on Mass street should be the objective. Events on side streets or New Hampshire defeats one of the objectives which is keeping foot traffic on Mass Street.

Notice all the vacancies on Mass Street? Yet have never had any series of events on Mass Street.

Suggestion: Alternate blocks on Mass Street A. 700 block B. 800 block C. These two blocks keep foot traffic kind of in the center of downtown.

How about moving the Farmers Market to Mass Street? Yes on Saturday morning. Yes block off the 700 or 800 block. Say it won't work? How does anyone know?

I have yet to understand the logic of keeping potential retail sales away from Mass Street. Why not make dining out and shopping more fun?

Getaroom 6 years, 4 months ago

It seems to me that planning the location of these events depends very much on the demographics of the target crowd attending. Identifying what the purpose is for having a public wide event in the immediate downtown is paramount to location and the size of the crowd expected. A recent example was the "adult swim" event that clearly was not aimed at the over 30 and family crowd. It was an extremely loud venue, lot's of drinking. Did not seem like that many of those people were using restaurants to me. The KU Relays event was something of interest to a wide demographic. So, are you looking to have the event bring families to the downtown area not only for entertainment but to eat, or is the event desired to encourage college age drinkers to spend more on alcohol, which is great for bar owners.

The foot print of our downtown is small and so any event ties up traffic, creates change not everyone likes, and of course encourages crowd gathering, as intended. Even a ball game changes the way downtown looks during the football and basketball seasons.

One way or the other some people live closer than others to the footprint of downtown and in many cases chose to do so and along with that arrangement comes some inconvenience and change over time. Using the parks makes sense to me and still people can get access to downtown for whatever suites their fancy. Mix it up based on the venue being considered. Not all events must close off downtown streets, but that can be fun too. The change keeps us flexible as a community. People who do not like downtown anyway won't be there and can be critical as usual and those who do use downtown will be whatever they are and you can't please everyone. Given the economy look at what it costs to clean up and set up in terms of city resources depending on the placement. Learn from the experiment and proceed accordingly. This is not a life and death issue.

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