Lawrence City Commission to again review East Ninth Project

A proposed resting area near the mural at Ninth and New Jersey streets is shown in this rendering from a recent East Ninth design document.

The Lawrence City Commission will take a harder look Tuesday at the design and cost of a proposed arts corridor along East Ninth Street — a project that’s so far three years in the making.

Commissioners asked May 24 for a work session on the project, after they didn’t have enough votes to move its design forward. Since then, an online campaign was started this month asking commissioners to again take up the issue. An online petition had 715 “signatures” as of Sunday night.

The project has faced opposition from some business owners and residents in East Lawrence concerned about the project’s effect on property values, believing it could price them out of the neighborhood.

The commission will take no formal action on the project Tuesday. A public comment period will follow the commission’s discussion, which, according to a city memo, will include talk about the design, funding and scope of work along the street.

Budget decisions

The work session, open to the public, is scheduled to follow a public presentation by City Manager Tom Markus about his recommended 2017 budget, released Thursday, which includes no funding for the project.

“If you decide to issue the funding, that would mean we’d have to go into the CIP [capital improvement plan] and pull it out in other items we’ve recommended for funding,” Markus said at the commission’s May 24 meeting.

The proposed budget includes what Markus called “significant cuts,” part of which is the elimination of one part-time and eight full-time city staff positions. One of the positions is the city’s arts and culture director, currently held by Porter Arneill, who has overseen the design process for the arts corridor project.

The city’s decision to create the position of arts and culture director was cited among reasons ArtPlace America awarded the Lawrence Arts Center a $500,000 grant in 2014 for making over East Ninth Street.

The City Commission, which ultimately passes the annual budget, has a month to make revisions to it before voting on one in August.

Project cost

Project designer Josh Shelton, with Kansas City-based El Dorado Inc, told commissioners May 24 the design team wanted to “set forth something that is visionary.”

El Dorado’s design spans seven blocks from Massachusetts Street to Delaware Street. Under the concept plan, curbs would be moved to realign the street. It has sidewalks on each side and an 8-foot shared-used path for both pedestrians and bicyclists. Parallel parking would be available in places on both sides of Ninth Street. Other components for the project include light displays, sound signals, native grasses used for storm water management and large rocks arranged to create intimate gathering areas.

A memo from Arneill dated July 6 cites Shelton as saying the project budget “has been represented as mismanaged, and/or spiraling out of control.”

Vice Mayor Leslie Soden said at the May 24 meeting that the funding wasn’t available, and Commissioner Lisa Larsen said the project needed “more compromise.”

But, according to the memo, Shelton said the cost estimates are “exactly where we thought they would be when the project began.” He said the project originally comprised six blocks, and it’s since expanded to seven.

The most recent cost estimate is $3.7 million for construction. Other costs, such as contractors’ fees, haven’t been developed at this stage, Arneill said in an email.

In January 2015, the City Commission approved a contract with El Dorado totaling $320,728 for phase one, which the design firm has completed.

The second phase — including more technical designs drawings and development of construction and bid documents — is estimated between $275,000 to $375,000, depending on what’s decided about the scope of the project. Moving forward to phase two would require a vote by the commission.

A July 2014 preliminary cost estimate totaled about $3.1 million.

According to estimates from the public works department in Arneill’s memo, general street repair to the corridor would cost about $1.9 million, including engineering and a contractor staking. Adding 100 trees would cost another $36,500, and 14 new water hydrants would be $22,400 to purchase and install.

The general repair includes lanes for parking, bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the street. It comprises only five blocks, omitting Massachusetts to New Hampshire streets and Pennsylvania Street to Delaware.

Overlaying Ninth Street from Massachusetts to New Hampshire streets — a section nearly at a stage in need of repair — would cost another $100,000 to $150,000, not including curb, gutter or sidewalk maintenance.

“Until we can thoroughly discuss what the project is and is not, this is truly an estimate,” the memo says of the $1.9 million.

Authority to cancel

Lawrence Arts Center CEO Susan Tate said after the May 24 meeting she thought the city would still find a way to move forward with the street revamp, though the project has been “significantly delayed” in the past two years.

An agreement between the city and the Lawrence Arts Center allows the City Commission to “delay, postpone, cancel, modify or elect not to fund, construct or contract for the construction or rehabilitation of the project.”

If the project doesn’t move past phase one, the unspent portion of the ArtPlace America grant would have to be returned, Arneill’s memo states. He noted that if the project moves forward, but is reduced, it might still be possible to use the grant money for public art.

The $500,000 was intended to go toward the integration of art into the corridor, as well as the cost of engaging artists to help in the street design. Of the total, $50,000 went to the design contract with El Dorado Inc. Three artists are already under contract for $100,000 each.

The City Commission convenes at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., at 3 p.m. Tuesday for a work session on the 2017 budget. Commissioners will meet to pass a consent agenda at 5:45 p.m., and then hold their work session on the East Ninth Project.