Stakeholders excited, wary about possibilities for $500,000 ArtPlace grant

Neighborhood meeting

Lawrence Arts Center representatives are expected to talk about the ArtPlace grant at the next East Lawrence Neighborhood Association meeting. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. July 7 at Van Go Inc., 715 New Jersey St.

Easily walkable — or roll-able — paths. Sculpture. Subtle lighting. Signage noting natural or historic neighborhood features. Maybe even a tiny stage for impromptu performances along the way.

Residents and other stakeholders say they’re excited about the possibilities a newly announced $500,000 ArtPlace America grant might bring to the Ninth Street corridor. At the same time, they say the planning process must ensure improvements don’t end up quashing the quirkiness that makes the neighborhood desirable in the first place.

“The affordability of the neighborhood is something that’s very important,” said East Lawrence resident Mike Myers, an architect who’s also been involved with multi-modal planning in the city. “I would hate to see us make it so great that the artists and the bricklayers can’t live there … The critical thing is having the people be part of the conversation. That’s the huge piece of it that has to happen.”

ArtPlace announced Wednesday that the Lawrence Arts Center’s proposal, “Free State Boulevard: From the Studio to the Streets,” was among this year’s 55 winning grants for creative placemaking.

The proposal calls for re-imagining Ninth Street between Massachusetts and Delaware streets, with the artistic part designed in tandem with city-funded street improvements along the corridor.

“The ability to attract this very competitive grant is really a testament to the work of many people in the community with a vision for making Lawrence a more creative, entrepreneurial place to live and work,” Douglas County Community Foundation executive director Chip Blaser said. “I’m excited about the possibilities for this project as well as other related efforts to continue to make Lawrence a healthier, more connected community.”

A more inviting link between downtown and the Warehouse Arts District — which has emerged as a popular destination for art lovers and is home to a number of artists’ lofts — makes sense, said district developer Tony Krsnich. ?

“It’s good for me, it’s good for Mass Street, it’s good for Ninth Street, it’s good for all of Lawrence,” he said.

Myers said such a link also boosts public health, especially if multi-modal paths are safely disconnected from auto traffic.

“It makes getting out and walking compelling,” Myers said.

Myers said he looks forward to seeing what artists and engineers working together with input from the community might create.

“It’s a real renaissance of thought in the way that we develop and redevelop areas,” he said. “We don’t just knock things down anymore. We try to figure out what the spirit of that place is.”

Design teams hoping to serve as project manager will be asked to submit qualifications including their experience working with artists and engaging community members, Arts Center CEO Susan Tate said.

East Lawrence resident and artist Dave Loewenstein, whose studio is at 411 E. Ninth St. and who has worked with creative placemaking grants in other cities, said he hopes nearby residents and business owners of the diverse neighborhood will be allowed to help shape the project.

“It’s fantastic that there’s new investment in the arts,” he said. “I think there’s great potential for this to have positive impact on the neighborhood and for local artists. It’s really how the programs associated with the grant are organized, who’s at the table and what their intentions are.”

East Lawrence Neighborhood Association president Aaron Paden said some residents fear improvement could have unwanted secondary effects — namely, driving up demand for residential and commercial space, pricing out lower-income residents or small businesses that currently occupy modest buildings along the corridor and nearby blocks.

Inclusive discussion should help minimize those fears, Paden said. He added that the neighborhood wants groups such as Tenants to Homeowners involved, as well.

Paden said he hoped the ArtPlace project will reflect some of the history and special attributes of East Lawrence.

“There’s exciting stories to be told,” he said. “This is going to be a good process to get some of those stories out.”