City agrees to hear more input from East Lawrence on Ninth Street project

Spending a $500,000 private grant to help convert Ninth Street into a unique arts corridor has become difficult at Lawrence City Hall.

City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting agreed to slow the process for hiring a lead designer for the project until members of the East Lawrence neighborhood have had a greater opportunity to express how they think the project should move forward.

The approximately $3 million project would involve rebuilding Ninth Street east of Massachusetts Street to include more public art and a host of new infrastructure. Some East Lawrence residents have expressed concern that they haven’t been full partners in the project, which has been largely spearheaded by the Lawrence Arts Center.

Neighbors raised new concerns Tuesday after the Arts Center released the application it used to garner a $500,000 grant from ArtPlace America. Previously, the Arts Center had refused to release the entire application.

The application states in multiple places that the Kansas City architecture firm el dorado inc. would serve as the lead project designer. That’s despite the fact that el dorado inc. had not been selected yet by the city.

A city committee has subsequently recommended el dorado to be awarded the contract to design the project. Several East Lawrence residents said that left them with the impression that Arts Center leaders had made up their minds ahead of time that they wanted the architecture firm to lead the project and had influenced the city committee to select the firm.

Arts Center officials said that was not the case. They said use of the firm’s name was meant as an example of the type of firm that would be leading the project, although the language in the grant application never disclosed that el dorado hadn’t yet been chosen for the job.

City commissioners on Tuesday said they were impressed with the qualifications of el dorado but did not yet give city staff members authority to start negotiating a contract with the firm. Instead, city staff members will meet with East Lawrence residents and other interested parties to learn more about how they want the project to proceed. A date for that meeting hasn’t been set. Commissioners, though, said they expected a report back on the project in a few weeks.

In other city news, commissioners agreed to move ahead with a process to improve part of Kasold Drive, but did not decide whether to use a roundabout or a signal at the intersection with Harvard Road. Commissioners agreed to allow the city to begin seeking a design firm. As part of that larger project, commissioners agreed to consider plans that could include a roundabout or a signal at the intersection. A final decision on how to proceed is likely still several months away.

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