Archive for Thursday, May 19, 2011

Downtown voices

Local residents have a golden opportunity today to be part of the conversation on how to improve Lawrence’s downtown.

May 19, 2011

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There’s no doubt that Lawrence residents love their downtown. City officials and downtown business owners may get tired of hearing the chorus of opinions and complaints connected with the city’s central business district, but they should be grateful that residents care so much about what often is referred to as the “heart” of Lawrence.

Residents will have a golden opportunity at 5:30 p.m. today to voice their thoughts about downtown during a listening session with two city commissioners, Hugh Carter and Bob Schumm, at City Hall. The session originally was planned as a time to talk about how to lower the downtown vacancy rate, but recently released city survey results also may prompt discussion of some other topics.

The number of vacant downtown storefronts seems higher than usual, but, as many longtime business owners point out, the downtown occupancy rate often has run in cycles. Although the economic downturn can be blamed for a number of the current vacancies, the city survey also reveals growing dissatisfaction with the mix of retail stores vs. bars and other entertainment businesses downtown.

Given the recent loss of several significant retailers and the obvious trend toward more bars and restaurants downtown, we can assume those responding to the survey would like to see some revival of the area’s retail sector. How to make Lawrence more attractive and inviting to both retail businesses and customers and stop the loss of retail dollars to nearby shopping areas is a tough question It will be interesting to see what ideas are offered at today’s session.

The survey contained some good news for downtown. There was a significant rise in the marks for beautification efforts downtown thanks to additional attention to flower planting and litter control. People also reported they had no problems with getting to downtown.

However, as always, people had concerns about where they would park once they arrived downtown. Both parking and downtown safety are perennial issues, but the number of people concerned with those matters was steady compared with the last survey in 2007. On the other hand, there was a marked increase in the number of people who were dissatisfied with the hours downtown businesses are open. Extended hours has been a topic of conversation among downtown business owners recently and may have gotten the attention of survey-takers.

It’s great that a couple of city commissioners are inviting not only downtown property owners, residents and office tenants, but the public at large to share their ideas about downtown. We hope everyone will come to the meeting not simply to voice complaints about what someone else needs to do but to think creatively about how the community can work together to make Lawrence’s downtown even better.

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