Mass Street to close for some upcoming concerts; free movie in downtown coming up; local restaurant lands in NY Times
In most cities the orange construction cones and “road closed” barricades mean crews are pouring some concrete or laying some asphalt. In Lawrence, it may be a hard substance of another kind: rock 'n' roll. Get ready for a major street closure in downtown Lawrence this weekend as part of a street party and concert.
Downtown business owner and music promoter Mike Logan has received City Hall approval to close the 1000 block of Massachusetts Street on Saturday as part of a new free concert series he is calling Live on Mass. The street will close to traffic about noon and won’t reopen until several hours after the concert ends at 11 p.m.
Logan is betting the inconvenience will be worth it to many music fans. The concert’s headliner is The Get Up Kids, an international touring act that got its start in Lawrence in the 1990s and went on to become a significant player in the emo music scene.
Now, the group will help Logan — who owns the Granada, Abe & Jake’s and other venues — answer a question: Can Massachusetts Street become a significant player in the Lawrence concert scene?
Logan has had the Live on Mass concert series idea for awhile, but the one other time he tried it, he didn’t win city approval to close the street to traffic — only large portions of sidewalk. But city commissioners granted his requests this year. The first event is Saturday, while a second event — featuring the reggae band The Wailers — is scheduled for July 2.
Logan said other cities have had success in using their downtown streets for concert venues. He estimated that Columbia, Mo., hosts about a dozen street concerts per year. The key, Logan said, is getting bands with large enough followings to attract sizable crowds.
“I’m pretty confident both of these shows will draw about 3,000 people,” Logan said. “We’re expecting a lot of out-of-town visitors for both of these acts.”
That means the concerts could provide a boost to hotel bookings, and it will represent new money coming into town and being spent at bars, restaurants, gas stations and other such businesses. Concert-goers, though, won’t be spending money on tickets. Both concerts will be free to enter, although Logan has won city approvals to sell alcohol and food at the street events.
Logan said he thinks the concert series has a chance to keep Lawrence’s live music scene alive during the summer months. He said concert-goers have really taken to the idea of outdoor music, which has fueled the growth of musical festivals. Ever since the state of Kansas turned sour on the Wakarusa Music Festival at Clinton Lake State Park several years ago, Lawrence has struggled to get into the music festival game. Organizers of the Free State Festival have closed a block of New Hampshire Street to host concerts in the past, but that festival has been downsized this year, and there will be no such street concert.
As a result, the number of summer concerts in Lawrence has also dropped, Logan said. He said many larger touring acts don’t do many of the small venue shows during the summer. They save those type of concerts for winter months. Logan said local concert-goers likely have noticed fewer summer shows scheduled for Liberty Hall, and he said his summer bookings at The Granada have been cut by about half.
“I think we need to try to prove this concept,” Logan said of the larger street concerts.
If successful, he thinks it could be a true form of economic development. He said his data shows that more than half of all the concert tickets at The Granada are bought by people who live outside of Douglas County.
“Music in this community can be a magnet for people,” Logan said.
But he said he also recognizes closing down a major city street can be a hassle for many people. He said he has won the support of fellow business owners on the 1000 block to give this a try this summer.
“I think many of them want to see how it works because they recognize there could be a greater benefit come from this,” he said.
As for details about the shows, here’s some additional information:
— Saturday’s show will feature The Get Up Kids with opening acts Making Movies, Kawehi, and Lily Pryor and Iris Hyde. Gates open at 6:30 p.m.. In the case of rain, the show will move indoors to The Granada. Admission is free.
— The July 2 show will feature The Wailers, which is a band formed by many of the remaining members of the late Bob Marley’s band. Opening acts are scheduled to include Page 7 and The Rhythm Project. Gates open at 6 p.m., and the rain venue will be The Granada. Admission is free.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe you are bit more into drama than music, a bit more into grass than the hard pavement of a city street. (I should probably clarify that for the Marley fans, but hopefully it will make sense in a second.) Downtown Lawrence Inc. this week is hosting the second of three Dinner and a Movie events on the lawn of the Lawrence Public Library.
This one will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the grassy area between the library and the city parking garage on Vermont Street. The movie will be "Lego Batman." Like I said, drama. (Put a large group of kids around a small batch of Legos, and you will see drama — and perhaps an ER trip to have a Lego removed from an inappropriate place.) While the event starts at 7:30 p.m., the movie won’t start rolling until 9 p.m.. Various food vendors will be on hand, although you can also bring your own picnic to the event. Several downtown businesses also will be giving away door prizes to those in attendance early.
The final Dinner and a Movie event for 2017 is set for July 26 at Abe & Jake’s Landing. That movie will be "Jurassic World."
• While we are in the area, I have news of a Lawrence restaurant that received some attention in The New York Times. It may not be one you would expect. It is the relatively new Lucia Beer Garden & Grill at 1016 Massachusetts, which used to house Fatso’s Bar & Grill.
As we reported in August, Mike Logan — the concert promoter from above — opened the Caribbean-themed restaurant. The menu is heavy on Jamaican items, and Logan alerted me that the restaurant landed a prominent mention in a New York Times article last month.
The Times did an article on Jamaican beef patties. If you have never had one, they are ground meat — beef suet is common — with Jamaican spices inside a flaky, golden pastry crust. Somehow The Times noticed that Lucia had the item on its menu and was doing well with it. The author of the article interviewed Logan, and Lucia’s version of the Jamaican beef patties served as the photo for the story.
You can read the full article here, and it sounds like the Jamaican patties have become a bit of a downtown street food trend. Logan has taken to selling the patties during late-night hours through a food window that opens onto Massachusetts Street.
“You can hold it with one hand,” Logan told The Times about one of the reasons the food has become popular.
He said he owed his passion to George Ricketts of G's Jamaican Quisine, in Kansas City, Mo., who introduced him to Caribbean food. "Most of my experience from Jamaican food comes from George," Mr. Logan said. He recalled the first time he tried the island food.
Perhaps you remember the days of the free movies downtown, when a projector was set up in the then-vacant lot just north of the city's parking garage at Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
I still hear people complain about how that multistory apartment building that took over the vacant lot ruined the days of the free movies. How dare someone do millions of dollars worth of development on a lot that was planned and zoned to accommodate, well, millions of dollars worth of development.
Perhaps you may even remember the days when The Granada in downtown Lawrence actually showed movies instead of serving as a music and event venue. (Man, you're old.)
Well, city officials will have a chance to bring back both traditions for at least a night. The owners of The Granada, 1020 Massachusetts, have filed a request at City Hall to show a free, outdoor movie on Sept. 26. But there is a significant twist to the request: The movie would be shown in the middle of Massachusetts Street and would require the entire 1000 block to be shut down for about six hours.
We'll see whether that idea excites downtown merchants, but the movie should excite children of the '80s, anyway. Mike Logan, owner of The Granada, said he's chosen The Goonies, a 1985 kid-oriented film with Corey Feldman and others that has become a cult classic.
As I mentioned, though, the idea of closing down Massachusetts Street may end up getting the same reception as a Corey Feldman, Goonies-style hairdo would today. Certainly the city has agreed to shut down Massachusetts Street many times before, but in recent months a few commissioners have started to grow weary of the idea. Commissioners Bob Schumm and Mike Amyx, who both own businesses on Massachusetts Street, have gotten an earful from fellow merchants who say keeping the flow of traffic and parking in the heart of downtown is critical to their businesses.
The Granada wants to close the street from 4 to 11 p.m. on a Thursday. So, we'll see whether merchants, restaurant owners and other businesses downtown object to a closing at that hour.
Logan said he's optimistic the idea will be well received.
"We picked a Thursday night specifically for that reason," Logan said. "I think it is the right block for it, and we think the timing won't be that impactful."
As for the occasion behind this big event, The Granada is celebrating 20 years as a live music venue. It opened in 1993 after ceasing to be a movie theater in the late 1980s. In an homage to that movie history, plans call for an inflatable movie screen to be set up near the intersection of 11th and Massachusetts, and moviegoers would bring lawn chairs and blankets and sit on the closed portion of Massachusetts Street. The movie would be free to attend, but The Granada would operate a concession stand and beer garden in the parking lot next to its building. Organizers originally had hoped to allow beer on the closed portion of the street, but they did not get their request into City Hall soon enough to allow for all the public hearings that must happen to allow alcohol on a public right-of-way.
In fact, city commissioners just learned of the request yesterday. They're being asked to hear the item at next week's City Commission meeting.
Logan, who has owned the venue for the past 10 years, has several other events planned during the week of Sept. 20 to celebrate the anniversary. Look for details of those in the near future. They should provide a little recognition for a business that once was primarily a nightclub but now has turned into an events venue that has become one of the larger generators of traffic in downtown. Logan told me that the venue hosts about 250 events a year, and already has 85 events scheduled between now and the end of the year.
"We're having a lot of fun," he said. "Our core focus now is to bring national-level talent to Lawrence."
Here's a look at some other news and notes from around town:
• It may not be as fun as a movie, but the city is set to get a new pump station to move sewage through a key section of south Lawrence. (Actually, that sounds better than the plots of a few romantic comedies I've been forced to sit through.) City commissioners at their Tuesday meeting agreed to pay $170,670 for about five acres at the northwest corner of 31st and Louisiana streets to house the sewage pump station. As part of the purchase, the city will receive a donation of about 18 acres just west of the corner. Much of that ground is in the floodway and could never be developed under city regulations. But city officials believe it will be a nice piece of greenspace along the new South Lawrence Trafficway, and eventually a hike and bike path could be built through the property that would connect the Naismith Valley Park hike and bike trail to the trail that will be included along the SLT. The deal still leaves about 8.5 acres to the west, including the house of Bruce and Joan Snodgrass, which is available for development. As we've previously reported, Menards has the property under contract to use in its new retail area on the Gaslight Village Mobile Home Park, just west of the site.
• It is not often that people come to City Hall saying: "Spend local taxpayer money instead of private grant money to build a project." But that's what happened at Tuesday's city commission meeting. City commissioners decided not to apply for a $14,000 Kansas Health Foundation Grant to install specialized outdoor fitness equipment in a portion of South Park. (Deerfield Park has some of the equipment, if you are curious about what it is.) Commissioners balked at the grant after Commissioner Jeremy Farmer and a local nonprofit grant writer asked the city to reconsider applying. The duo argued that if the city applied for the money it may be less likely that other nonprofits in Lawrence would receive any money from the grant program. They said the city should show restraint this year because many nonprofits are relying on private grant money more heavily than ever because of cutbacks in federal funding. Commissioners agreed to back off this time, but they did so with hesitation. They said grant funding is mighty important to the city too. As for the fate of the fitness equipment, it was left undecided whether the city would use local funds to purchase the equipment. When that comes back up, I'll let you know.
• And finally, one housekeeping matter. (My wife's ears actually perked up. She thinks I've figured out how to run a vacuum cleaner.) Don't worry, it is nothing silly like that. Several of you have been asking for a way to get some sort of e-mail notifications about new Town Talk columns. Well, we've figured out how to do that. It is a once-a-day e-mail digest of Town Talk columns. A link to sign up for the free service can be found below.