Some businesses opposed to city’s plan to remove downtown Lawrence sidewalk canopy

KB & Co. workers Haley Hamke, left, and Madison Murphy stop to glance at a humorous piece of paper advocating for the canopy over a walkway behind the west side of the 800 block of Massachusetts Street to remain, Thursday, May 31, 2018. The city is planning to remove the canopy structure. Some business owners would like the decision to be reconsidered.

A one-block covered walkway in downtown Lawrence will soon be no more.

The City of Lawrence is planning to remove the canopy structure above the sidewalk that runs behind the buildings that make up the 800 block of Massachusetts Street. Building and Structures Manager Jason Stowe said the city installed the canopy about 50 years ago. He said that the city originally planned to repair the structure but that the need to do other infrastructure repairs in the area required it to be taken down.

“We decided it may be better to remove it completely, based on all the work that needed to be done,” Stowe said. He said the canopy needed to be removed to complete sidewalk, storm sewer system and drainage improvements, and to completely renovate and reconstruct the canopy would cost about $1.3 million.

Stowe said that originally the cost estimated to re-roof and make general repairs to the canopy structure was $350,000, but that price was set before the city found that the other infrastructure issues would require the canopy to be taken down. If the canopy is removed and not replaced, Stowe said the estimated cost of the entire project is $350,000. The City Commission approved funding for the project, which noted the removal of the canopy, in December.

But some of the businesses in the block said the canopy provided benefits to the businesses and downtown visitors, and they do not want to see it go. Owners of the art shop Wonder Fair, 841 Massachusetts St., wrote a letter to city staff and city commissioners requesting that the city reconsider its plan to remove the canopy.

“(The canopy) provides shelter from the rain and shade from the sun — both particularly nice perks if you’re the UPS delivery person, but also, we suspect, for many downtown residents and visitors,” the letter states.

Wonder Fair co-owner Meredith Moore told the Journal-World that in addition to providing pedestrians shelter from the weather, the canopy shades the buildings. Moore said that especially with the intense summer sun, the canopy’s shade helps protect the products in window displays and mitigates utility costs. She said she wanted to make sure the costs of keeping the canopy were made clear and weighed against the benefits.

“I think the city probably spends far more money on infrastructure projects that are less obviously useful,” Moore said. “(City leaders) keep saying downtown is the jewel of the city and they want to invest in it, and this feels like an opportunity to do that.”

The canopy and sidewalk are part of the city right-of-way and are bordered on the west side by a city parking lot. Many of the shops and restaurants along the block have public entrances and signs along the walkway or attached to the canopy itself, and Moore said that removing the canopy would also affect those entrances.

In addition to the infrastructure work that needs to be done, Public Works Director Chuck Soules also pointed to segments of the canopy roof and support posts that are rusted and deteriorating. Soules said he understood that the canopy was nice for the public and businesses, but that given all the circumstances, it made more sense for the city to take it down.

“We get that, but we’ve got to look at safety, stability and the long term,” Soules said.

The letter to city staff and the commission also noted that since many downtown businesses lease rather than own their buildings, some business owners weren’t originally notified of the plans to remove the canopy. The letter, which was sent last week, states such discussions should involve the property owners, tenants and the public. Moore said that after Wonder Fair sent the letter, the city sent out another notice also addressed to tenants. She said she was grateful the city took that step and that it has also been responsive to questions about the project.

Stowe said that once the underground infrastructure work is complete, the city will replace the sidewalk and add sidewalk ramps that are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said the project is scheduled to begin in early July.

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