Editorial: Ninth St. plan finally advances

It’s good that the city is finally moving forward with plans to reconstruct Ninth Street from New Hampshire to the Warehouse Arts District. Such a decision should have been made years ago.

Lawrence city commissioners voted 4-0 Tuesday to proceed with a basic street design concept, finally abandoning a much grander concept of creating an arts corridor, with displays of public art along the street. The art was to be funded in part by a $500,000 ArtPlace America grant awarded to the Lawrence Arts Center in 2014.

The basic plan will cost about $2.2 million as opposed to the estimated $3.8 million project cost for the arts corridor. The basic plan appears to be more in line with what a majority of the residents in the area preferred.

The basic plan includes five blocks of street reconstruction, lighting and 6-foot-wide sidewalks on both sides of the street. The commission opted not to include bike lanes in the design to preserve green space.

The reconstruction will include spaces where public art can be added later. And some $335,000 in grant funding still remains that could be used to fund such art. Still, that can’t be what ArtPlace America had envisioned when it awarded the grant.

Commissioner Matthew Herbert lamented what might have been before voting to approve the basic plan Tuesday night.

“To me it’s pretty sad that after four years of having over 100 public meetings, having an actual concept design that received approval from every group it went before, that we’re just saying, ‘Well, never mind, let’s just get started,'” Herbert said.

Herbert is right that significant time and money were wasted debating the arts corridor plan. That could have been avoided with stronger city leadership. The project was in trouble from the moment area residents pushed back out of fear the arts corridor would create a loud entertainment district and unwanted traffic and congestion, and the decision that the commission made Tuesday could have come two years ago.

Credit City Manager Tom Markus for assessing where the project was and steering the commission toward the decision it always seemed most comfortable with. The arts corridor was a grand vision; it just wasn’t one Lawrence was ready to embrace.