Saturday Column: Don’t let 9th Street project divide the community

It’s time for a genuine, honest conversation about the Ninth Street arts corridor project.

Name-calling, questionable interpretations of past comments or statements, egos, some of those involved being too thin-skinned, questionable motivations, behind-the-scenes maneuvering, threats and other actions relative to what now is known as the East Ninth Project have created a dangerous situation that could have lasting and damaging consequences for Lawrence.

Now is the time for honesty, trust and transparency.

Many local individuals have a deep interest — both pro and con — in the project on Ninth Street from Massachusetts to Delaware streets. Some see it as an enhancement while some see it as a threat to the historical and current environment of East Lawrence.

Some may look upon this project as a means to benefit their own personal or business interests, but the majority of those who have joined the efforts have done so because they think it would be good for Lawrence. They see it as an opportunity to emphasize Lawrence’s arts scene, help strengthen our sense of community and build pride among those who live in East Lawrence.

Those living or owning businesses in East Lawrence understandably have a far more intense interest in the project than those living in other parts of the city. They believe, rightfully so, that they should have a voice in what is being proposed for their part of the community and how the “arts corridor” would affect their neighborhood.

Those in the arts community see the corridor project as a means to expand the display and recognition of the arts and showcase the influence of the arts on the community, as well as physically improving Ninth Street from Massachusetts to Delaware.

Are there hidden, selfish motives? Have East Lawrence residents been deliberately kept in the dark? Have those promoting the effort tried to hide selfish motivations for pushing the projects? Are some who oppose the effort also misleading the public for various reasons?

What’s the city’s role in the project, which would result in a new and improved Ninth Street with improved sidewalks, better lighting and landscaping? Improvements to the area infrastructure will cost millions of taxpayer dollars, and there is every reason the public should be interested in how their dollars are spent.

The goal of the project should be to initiate a program that makes Lawrence a better community, not to divide the city. We’ve had enough projects and programs in recent years that have triggered strong and differing opinions such as Rock Chalk Park, the construction of a new police headquarters, major trafficway and retail developments and other issues.

It would be wrong in so many ways to let the East Ninth Project pit one area of Lawrence against another.

Before it becomes too emotional with too much name-calling and too many hard feelings, responsible and involved parties should get together, share their ideas and concerns. They should acknowledge and appreciate the strong feelings on both sides of the issue and then work together to come up with good solutions that make Lawrence a better community.

The East Ninth Project should be a winner in every respect, not a divider that leaves scars for years to come. There is so much talk and concern these days about the need for compromise, rather than stubborn inaction, in Topeka and Washington, D.C. Why not apply that spirit of collaboration and compromise to arriving at a workable plan for a winning East Ninth plan?