Lawrence Arts Center CEO confident East Ninth Project will move forward

If project halted, $500,000 grant must be returned, she says

photo by: Mike Yoder

This contributed rendering imagines the final design of the East Ninth Street Project, which includes large rocks, a stormwater management system with native grasses, and integrated art installations that combine unique lighting and recorded sounds.

Lawrence Arts Center CEO Susan Tate said Wednesday a $500,000 grant from ArtPlace America toward the recreation of East Ninth Street would have to be returned if the Lawrence City Commission halts the project.

But Tate thinks the city will find a way to move forward with the street revamp, she said, though the project has been “significantly delayed” in the past two years and was again Tuesday night.

“Yes, we will have to return the grant money if the city reneges on the plan to complete the street,” Tate said via email. “It must be spent on the East Ninth Project. However, we do not plan to have to do this.”

photo by: Mike Yoder

Susan Tate, CEO of the Lawrence Arts Center

After about four hours of hearing from 41 commenters on the project Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission, without enough votes to advance the project, decided to set a time during the next few weeks to study the proposed concept design.

When some East Lawrence residents asked commissioners to scale back the project or reconsider it altogether, others, in support of the plan, wondered about the city’s reputation if it had to return the major national grant.

Lawrence artist Erok Johanssen, who works out of East Lawrence’s SeedCo Studios, said, “To fail at making this project happen would be a black eye to the community.”

Tim Herndon, who sat on the East Ninth Citizen Advisory Committee, said stopping the project would be a “waste of the money and gifts that have been given to us.”

“What will it do to our reputation if we renege on our commitments made to ArtPlace?” East Lawrence resident Jackie Counts asked. “I think the reputation and the repercussions that may fall out if we decide not to move forward with this may outlive the disappointment of those of us who support this project.”

Tate said she has regularly updated ArtPlace through the project’s design process, which was planned to span seven months and has extended to 18. She said ArtPlace was “well aware” of Lawrence’s process.

“Major projects that combine support across municipal, nonprofit and private sectors can always experience delays, and we hope that is all we are seeing now,” Tate said. “We think the city will decide to take advantage of the ArtPlace America investment in the street rather than turning it down in favor of no street renovation or in favor of a business-as-usual street renovation.”

Most of the ArtPlace America grant, $381,000, would go toward both integrated and temporary art along the six-block corridor, as well as the cost of engaging artists to help in the street design.

Three artists are already under contract for $100,000 each, said Porter Arneill, the city’s arts and culture director. Another $50,000 of the grant went toward a design contract with Kansas City-based el dorado inc for the concept design presented to commissioners Tuesday. The city paid the remaining $270,728 of that design contract.

The rest of the grant, $69,000, was set aside for administrative costs.

The total cost of the reconstruction, as it’s planned in the concept design, is estimated at $3.6 million to $3.7 million.

The budget was a source of debate earlier in the week, after Lawrence released its recommendations for large projects in the next five years and East Ninth Street was dubbed “unfunded.”

The previous City Commission had voted to set aside money for the project.

During talks about the five-year capital improvement plan Tuesday afternoon, new City Manager Tom Markus took responsibility for the action, which had prompted some blowback from the Lawrence Arts Center.

“With the city manager having removed the capacity that had been committed to funding the street project from the 2016 budget, what has been a two-year public process might have died there,” Tate said Wednesday.

Tate, along with Lawrence Arts Center board members Joan Golden and Cindy Maude, sent a letter to the city Monday asking that East Ninth Street be placed back onto the list of funded projects.

Markus noted the 2017 budget would be voted upon by the City Commission, which makes its final determinations. If commissioners want to move the project forward, they will have to decide which funded projects to pull the money from, he said.

“This project has transcended two city commissions, three city managers,” Markus said. “It’s highly desirable to part of your constituents, and it’s criticized by another part. I put this into the unfunded category. Budgets are ultimately the decision of the City Commission.”