Lawrence city commissioners are facing a pivotal decision on whether the arts corridor proposed for East Ninth Street will move forward or fall by the wayside.
City finances are tight, and this project has spurred considerable controversy in the community. That being said, it would be too bad if the proposed arts corridor east of downtown isn’t allowed to move forward in some fashion.
After City Manager Tom Markus proposed a capital improvements plan that included no funding in 2017 for the East Ninth Project, city commissioners were on the hot seat at Tuesday’s meeting. After hearing four hours of public comment, both pro and con, on the project, commissioners made the reasonable decision to take some time to digest what they had heard and then schedule a study session to talk through the issues.
Key among those issues are the financial challenges facing the city. Markus said the East Ninth Project was among projects that were listed as unfunded because they “are not financially feasible at this time” without making other financial adjustments. On Tuesday, he told commissioners that if they included funding for the arts corridor in the capital improvement plan, they would have to take money away from some other item in the plan.
That won’t be easy and suggests some compromise will be needed. Over the last 15 months, the city’s price tag for the arts corridor has grown from about $2.75 million to about $3.5 million. As commissioners talk through this project they should consider the possibility of pursuing a less expensive plan or finding ways to stage the improvements over a number of years — or both.
Commissioners also must consider the continuing split among East Lawrence residents and business people over this project. The advisory groups that have worked on this project have done their best to address opponents’ concerns, and the plans have garnered the support of key arts and community groups. Perhaps some additional consideration should be given to parking or other neighborhood issues, but commissioners should keep in mind that killing this project won’t heal the East Lawrence rift and could well make it worse.
It’s been nearly two years since the Lawrence Arts Center announced it had received a prestigious $500,000 grant from ArtPlace America to pursue this project. Since then, the project has followed the traditional Lawrence path of controversy, compromise and lots of public input. That process isn’t all bad and often leads Lawrence to make more thoughtful decisions about community projects. It would be a shame for all that work to go to waste. More compromise and creativity may be called for, but commissioners shouldn’t give up on a project that could be a real asset for the community.