Editorial: Community effort?

The East Lawrence Neighborhood Association’s suggested role in formulating plans for a new arts corridor are simply unreasonable.

The residents of East Lawrence should be an important part of the planning for a proposed arts corridor along Ninth Street, but the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association’s vision of its role in this project is a bit out of whack.

In a recent letter to Lawrence city commissioners, ELNA proposes that it be “a full partner” in the project and that any design plans for the project must receive ELNA’s approval before going to the City Commission. It also wants the city to create two paid staff positions for East Lawrence residents selected by ELNA to work on the project management team. These “neighborhood specialists,” it stipulates, “should be paid at a living wage.” It also says the city should compensate ELNA for its time and expense for producing newsletters and other communications related to the arts corridor project.

Is there anything else?

The most reasonable provision included in the letter is that “all proposals and present and future budgets” related to the project should be accessible to the public.

The president of ELNA said last week that the letter was intended to be a starting point for negotiations on the neighborhood’s role in the project and didn’t seem to understand why city commissioners would read the proposal as “a list of demands.” Maybe it’s because it sounds like a list of demands that basically would give ELNA veto power over every aspect of the arts corridor plan.

The Lawrence Arts Center, which was the leader in obtaining a $500,000 grant for the arts corridor, and East Lawrence leaders apparently have gotten off on the wrong foot on this project. It’s difficult to know where to assign blame, but the contentious relationship between the center and neighborhood residents is threatening to derail the plan. Arts center leaders are excited about the corridor, but East Lawrence residents are understandably curious and a little concerned about the impact the plan will have on their neighborhood.

There is every reason for East Lawrence to be involved in this planning, but the demands for paid staff positions and veto power over design plans simply isn’t reasonable. In Lawrence, this kind of project often includes input from a volunteer group of residents — from throughout the community, not just East Lawrence. This is, after all, a project that will affect all of Lawrence and eventually include an investment of about $3 million in taxpayer dollars for infrastructure improvements to Ninth Street between downtown and the Warehouse Arts District.

It’s disappointing that people are taking such well-defined sides on this project before the design process has even begun. Both East Lawrence residents and arts center leaders need to redouble their efforts to make this a more collegial process that has broad support both in the downtown neighborhood and throughout the city.