The Lawrence City Commission recently considered a request from the Lawrence Farmers’ Market to use a portion of Parking Lot 8 in downtown for its Tuesday market. The question the City Commission had to decide was whether the market would be inconvenienced by being forced to hold the Tuesday market a few hundred yards away from its Saturday market location or whether to disrupt the customers, clients and employees of downtown businesses. The City Commission, after weighing the various interests, chose to go with disrupting the businesses of downtown.
Parking is a big problem for all downtown businesses. Special events like the Farmers’ Market create traffic which is good for many businesses downtown, but not all. Downtown Lawrence Inc., which has a board elected by the majority of the businesses located downtown, opposed having the Tuesday market at this location. The opposition was not to the market, but to using Parking Lot 8 because of parking issues.
Downtown businesses are affected differently when parking is at a premium. Restaurants and bars tend to do better when there is high traffic. People make spur of the moment decisions about whether to go for a drink or eat at a restaurant. Whether to visit a dentist, lawyer or accountant is not a decision people make impulsively. Thus, high traffic benefits restaurants and bars but is disruptive to businesses that provide services and many merchants where impulse buying is not a big factor. These businesses will not be able to set appointments for clients on Tuesday afternoons out of fear that their clients will not be able to find a parking space.
Over the last 30 years, I have witnessed downtown Lawrence change from a retail shopping district to a bar and restaurant district. The commission has intentionally or unintentionally set priorities that benefit bars and restaurants when balancing the interests of special events like the Farmers’ Market. Businesses considering locating downtown and businesses currently located downtown have been sent a clear message about priorities for downtown. Some folks say that a bar and restaurant district downtown is not a bad thing. I disagree. Downtown Lawrence should strive for a mixed-use district. Mixed-use districts provide a stronger downtown but also present greater parking challenges.
I am very concerned about the City Commission’s steps toward making a decision on this issue. Farmers’ Market representatives stated at the City Commission meeting that they had started the process of requesting the Tuesday market move in November of 2012. DLI and local businesses were not notified until late January of the request. That notification stated that the Tuesday market wanted to be in the grass and would take no parking spaces away.
By the time the issue came to a head in front of the City Commission, the Farmers’ Market was requesting the parking spaces and was in a position where it had to know where the market was going to be for the spring. The commission was faced with making a decision on this issue at the last minute. Will the City Commission repeat this mistake or will it take steps to ensure that this issue is thoroughly studied before a decision is made the next time?
The Lawrence Farmers’ Market representatives have made it clear that they have no interest in the parking lot under construction by the library. They are committed to the current Farmers’ Market location. I think everyone hopes the market expands and does well, but, if it stays at the current location, expansion of the weekday market will create a serious problem. The market will more than likely expand to Thursdays and seek additional parking spaces for its Tuesday market. The City Commission should not wait until a snowy day in February to begin the process of making this decision. If it does, and the trend continues, downtown Lawrence will end up a bar and restaurant district.