Scaled-down East Ninth Street design scheduled to come before City Commission

A westward view shows Ninth Street as it stretches toward downtown Lawrence.

After being excluded from the City of Lawrence budget for this year and a subsequent months-long absence from the public stage, the contentious East Ninth Project is set to re-emerge.

When it does come before the public again, the once estimated $3.7 million street reconstruction and public art project is likely to look a lot different.

During the City Commission’s budget discussions in July, three commissioners indicated they wanted to alter designs for the East Ninth Project to reduce it in scope and cost. At the time, they directed staff to come up with a new plan to move forward with funding the proposed arts corridor.

“They assigned that to engineering and public works to re-examine what they had assembled as an alternate proposal,” Arts and Culture Director Porter Arneill said. “And so they took some time and then recently came back with an update.”

More details from city engineers regarding the financial or design parameters of the new East Ninth Project plans were not immediately available Thursday, though a public reveal is upcoming.

The discussion of the new plans is tentatively scheduled for the City Commission’s work session on March 14, and the new designs should be posted on the city’s website in the days preceding the meeting, Arneill said. As far as where those designs might go from there, Arneill said that decision would rest with the governing body.

“It’s really up to the City Commission as to how they proceed, and if or how it is part of the (capital improvement plan),” Arneill said.

The city’s 2017-2021 capital improvement plan doesn’t currently include the East Ninth Project, but years subsequent to the current year are still flexible. For instance, projects for 2018 won’t be finalized until after the commission approves a budget for that year.

City Manager Tom Markus told commissioners during last summer’s budget discussions that if they want to fund a Ninth Street project, they had to decide on other projects to eliminate from the five-year capital improvement plan.

The previously proposed concept design for the project received a mixed response from the public, and only Commissioners Mike Amyx and Matthew Herbert indicated they would have advanced the design without further modifications.

In addition to street and sidewalk improvements, the concept design for the project included a stormwater management system with native grass and integrated art installations such as light displays, sound signals and a large rock garden. The 81-page concept design took about a year and half to establish and was due to be funded in part by a $500,000 ArtPlace America grant awarded to the Lawrence Arts Center.

Whether the discussion regarding the East Ninth Project will indeed be part of the March 14 work session, as currently scheduled, should be confirmed within the next few weeks.