Following the project’s tumultuous review path, the design concept for the reconstruction of East Ninth Street will be up for a vote at Tuesday's Lawrence City Commission meeting.
The stretch of East Ninth under consideration runs between downtown and the Warehouse Arts District. It was originally designed to have various public art installations and creative design elements; however, at the commission’s request, the design concept coming before it Tuesday has been significantly scaled down.
Mayor Leslie Soden said she is considering the East Ninth Street project in context. She said she doesn’t want to raise the city’s property tax rate, so she is looking at ways to reduce elements on projects citywide.
“There’s quite a few needed road projects across the city, so we have to be careful to judge them all fairly and not give favor to one over another,” Soden said. “It’s a tightrope.”
The cost estimate for the original plan for the street reconstruction and public art project was about $3.8 million, according to a memo from city staff to the commission. The design went through a public feedback process and took about a year and a half to establish. In addition to street reconstruction, sidewalks and bike lanes, the 81-page plan integrated artistic elements such as light displays, natural rock seating and native grasses.
The new “more traditional” design concept proposed by city staff calls for limited public art and is estimated to cost $2.3 million. The price tag would include street reconstruction, sidewalks, bike lanes and lighting. The public art would be limited to what would be covered by grant funds. City staff are recommending working with the previously selected artists to adapt their projects, developing a streetscape design and expanding the city’s Downtown Sculpture Exhibition to include East Ninth Street.
The artistic elements of the original design were to be funded in part by a $500,000 ArtPlace America grant awarded to the Lawrence Arts Center in 2014. Of that, $335,000 remains from the grant, which is still available to fund art for the project, Arts Center spokeswoman Sarah Bishop said via email.
The original design concept for East Ninth Street was designed and recommended by a citizen advisory committee, and Bishop said the Arts Center supports that design because a lot of community time and energy went into the process. However, Bishop said the center is flexible.
“We care about East Ninth Street getting the renovations it has long needed more than anything else,” Bishop wrote. “We also care greatly about seeing art integrated into the street in a way that supports local and regional artists and that does so in a manner that our entire community can support.”
Currently, the East Ninth Street project is allocated $2.5 million in the city manager’s recommended budget for next year.
Soden said she supports using the ArtPlace America grant to incorporate art into the East Ninth Street design concept, but she doesn’t see the city “going above and beyond that.”
Because of the city's overall financial situation, the city manager is also recommending a property tax rate increase of 1.25 mills, which would amount to about a $29 increase in annual property taxes on a $200,000 home.
Soden said city funds should have an impact beyond a single neighborhood.
“I think we need to pay more attention to adding cultural elements all across the city, instead of sinking everything into one short stretch of street,” Soden said.
The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.