This past week, a diverse group of Lawrence residents was interviewed by officials of a Denver-based company to gather input about economic and industrial development. All interviews were a one-on-one format with the responses and opinions not being attributed to particular individuals.
The study or interview project is being funded by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce for the purpose of trying to get a better understanding of how Lawrence, through city and county governments, the Chamber of Commerce and the community as a whole can do a better job of encouraging economic growth for the betterment of the city and its residents.
According to chamber staffers, those interviewed represented a cross-section of local residents, not just a group of business advocates.
During the interviews, participants were asked their thoughts about the effectiveness or the importance of economic and industrial development efforts in Lawrence. At the end of the interview, participants were given a list of 16 topics, actions or factors such as retaining business, the arts, developing an increased tax base, international business, research capabilities and university relations. Each participant also was given 10 poker chips, each representing $100 or $1,000 or more, and asked to allocate these chips among the topics on the list in a way he or she thought would be most effective in improving the city’s quest to improve economic growth in the community.
At the same time these interviews were taking place, local developers of a proposed multistory hotel-apartment building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire were turned down by the city’s Historic Resources Commission. Now the project will likely go to the Lawrence City Commission, which will have the final say on the plan.
These days most cities would be delighted to have a handsome, well-built multistory hotel-apartment facility built in their downtown to attract residents and shoppers. But in Lawrence, most every major development, no matter where it is located, is sure to face all kinds of opposition from various groups. Lawrence has the unfortunate reputation of being an extremely difficult community — one of the worst — in which to build or be an entrepreneur.
In years past, the Moore family of Lawrence did a great job of providing low-cost housing, but they encountered major opposition and detractors. The late Bob Billings did a great job for the city with his Alvamar development, but he also faced massive opposition to many of his ideas and plans. Duane Schwada and the Moores had to battle to get Meadowbrook Apartments built.
In recent years, Doug Compton has made a major positive impact on the city, as well as in many other states, but he, too, faces much opposition.
The fact is, entrepreneurs in Lawrence, dreamers with a desire to do something better than just average, face a tough challenge.
People complain about not having enough retail business in Lawrence to hold and attract shoppers. They see sales and tax dollars slipping away to nearby Johnson County or the Legends in Wyandotte County. And yet, the city turns down one of the country’s major home supply retailers, Lowe’s, which would have created several hundred construction jobs and several hundred ongoing jobs while generating major tax dollars and attracting shoppers to help strengthen the city’s retail base.
Lawrence is an attractive site for all kinds of business and industry and it’s a great place to live. However, in reality, it is a tough, tough, almost impossible place to try to build.
It is hoped the Denver interviewers will end up with a timely, accurate and well-documented picture of the attitudes of Lawrence residents relative to the importance or lack of importance of economic development.
If the sentiment is strongly in favor of sound, economic development and the need to change Lawrence’s national reputation as being negative and less than helpful to those interested in building in Lawrence, it is hoped city officials will get the message and have the courage to do something to improve the situation.