Lawrence Arts Center wants to acquire Salvation Army property for new outdoor performance space

Lawrence Arts Center director Susan Tate and Lawrence Mayor Bob Schumm talk about plans to acquire the property owned by The Salvation Army at 10th and New Hampshire streets. The center wants to raze the building and create an outdoor space for art and performances.

The Lawrence Arts Center, left, and The Salvation Army building, right, pictured in June 2012, share the block of New Hampshire Street between Ninth and 10th streets.

The Lawrence Arts Center wants to buy and raze the downtown Salvation Army building to make way for new outdoor arts and performance space.

Arts leaders are seeking about $1 million in city funding to make the project happen.

“We’re imagining a space that is open and green and alive for creativity,” said Susan Tate, executive director of the Arts Center.

Lawrence Mayor Bob Schumm said the city is close to finalizing “a right of first refusal” that would put the city in position to purchase The Salvation Army building at 946 N.H. A deal hasn’t been struck, but Schumm thinks the city can purchase the property for about $1 million. But the sale would be contingent upon The Salvation Army raising about $4 million to move its operations to property it has long owned near Haskell Avenue between 15th and 19th streets.

In an interesting twist, the outdoor arts space also may be contingent upon two large multistory building projects winning City Commission approval. Schumm said the city is proposing to pay for the project by creating a new tax increment financing district that would encompass a proposed multistory hotel/retail building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire and a multistory apartment/office building at the northeast corner of the intersection.

The TIF district would capture property and sales tax revenue generated from the projects and place it in a special fund. The fund would be used to pay for a host of site improvements, including the $1 million purchase of the building. The TIF revenues also would be used to pay for private parking garages for both the hotel and apartment buildings; plus, the district would help pay off the existing city-owned parking garage in the 900 block of New Hampshire, Schumm said.

As for the new arts space, Tate said the Arts Center could use the approximately 18,000-square-foot space for outdoor art exhibits, films, children’s programming and community events. The space likely could accommodate a few hundred people, Tate estimated.

For a period, the site largely would be undeveloped. Tate said eventually the Arts Center could undertake a $3 million campaign to build a small building and other amenities. But Tate said most of the site would remain open.

A time estimate for when the outdoor arts space could move forward is uncertain, both Schumm and Tate said. Susan Schneweis, chairwoman of the local advisory board for The Salvation Army, said it likely would take at least two years for The Salvation Army to raise the necessary funds it needs to build a new facility in east Lawrence.

Schneweis said The Salvation Army is envisioning an east Lawrence center that would allow The Salvation Army to continue its current programs, including an on-site meal program, a food pantry and several social service programs. The Salvation Army no longer operates a homeless shelter, and would not operate one at the new location. But Schneweis said board members hope the new project would include some transitional housing for low-income families or people who are transitioning out of homelessness.

The $1 million request for city funding comes at a time when city officials are facing several large financial decisions. Commissioners are contemplating spending more than $15 million for a regional recreation complex in northwest Lawrence, about $30 million for a new police headquarters and additional funding for the operation of the Lawrence Public Library, which is undergoing a voter-approved $19 million expansion.

Schumm said the city does have some funding pressures at the moment, but he thinks residents are interested in improving the arts venues in the community.

“I think the community is going to be really supportive of the project,” Schumm said.