Downtown concert plan seems to have city leaders’ support

Kansas City has its Starlight Theatre. Maybe downtown Lawrence will have Ninth and New Hampshire to tout as its unique outdoor concert venue.

City commissioners at Tuesday evening’s meeting will be asked to approve permits allowing the Grammy-winning group WILCO to play a concert May 14 on the vacant lots near Ninth and New Hampshire streets.

“We think we have an opportunity to bring in a great band and do something unique to help drive people into downtown Lawrence on a week that is normally pretty quiet,” said Mike Logan, a Lawrence-based promoter proposing the show.

The event needs city approval because Logan is asking that much of the 900 block of New Hampshire Street be closed to traffic. The concert would take place on two vacant lots: one on the southwestern corner and one on the southeastern corner.

Thus far, city commissioners are looking favorably on the idea, even though it would change traffic patterns.

“Sometimes to have events like this downtown, it requires a little bit of inconvenience,” City Commissioner Boog Highberger said. “But most of the time, I think it is worth it.”

Logan said he thinks the benefits would be significant for downtown. The concert would be on a Wednesday evening, but with an expected crowd of 4,000 people, he said businesses would be busy like on a weekend.

“It will fill up hotel rooms on a Wednesday night, and we think it will be good business for the restaurants on an otherwise slow night,” Logan said.

Mayor Sue Hack said the exposure the event could give to downtown was a major reason she was leaning toward approving the concert.

“I think this is going to be a good event,” Hack said. “We need to have more events downtown.”

Logan’s company, Pipeline Productions, will bring in a stage for the band, an alternative country-rock group. He’s proposing to fence the area, although access to private businesses such as PepperJax Grill and The Salvation Army won’t be affected. He’s also proposing to leave open the southern entrance of the city’s parking garage on New Hampshire Street for concert-goers and the general public.

The concert is scheduled to run from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., although the road may close as early as 6 a.m. to allow for setup of the stage.

Logan also is seeking to sell alcohol at the event, but city commissioners likely won’t take up that issue until at least April 29. Because the location is within 400 feet of The Salvation Army church, the city must hold a special hearing.

If approved, the concert would be the latest in a string of events at the Ninth and New Hampshire location. Within the last year, Downtown Lawrence Inc. hosted a film festival and a watch party for the Kansas University-Missouri football game.

Thus far, many downtown merchants seem pleased with the idea of hosting more events downtown.

“We’re all for events that bring more excitement downtown,” said Mary Cox, a co-owner of Shark’s Surf Shop and a board member of Downtown Lawrence Inc.

The vacant lots are owned by members of the Downtown 2000 development group. Plans for the lots call for retail and commercial development, but the projects haven’t yet materialized during the slow economy.

Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.