Lawrence Arts Center revives discussions about purchasing Salvation Army site

The Lawrence Arts Center, left, and The Salvation Army building, right, pictured in June 2012, share the block of New Hampshire Street between Ninth and 10th streets.

Years after the idea was originally proposed, Lawrence Arts Center leaders are reviving conversations about expanding the center’s property by purchasing the adjacent Salvation Army building.

The city made an agreement in 2012 to use rebates from a tax increment financing district at 9th and New Hampshire streets to fund the project, a green space known as the Arts Commons.

Cindy Maude, Arts Center interim CEO, said the effort is “very preliminary” but that the center wants to make sure that purchasing the property, which is directly south of the Arts Center, remains possible.

“We just want to make sure that the idea of maintaining green space there is not lost,” Maude said. “And so we want to be sure that it’s moving along and that deadlines are not missed in making it happen.”

The 2012 agreement is that the city retains 5 percent, up to $900,000, from the TIF rebates to help purchase the Salvation Army site for the Arts Commons project. The project was envisioned as a “park-like” setting and potential venue for public art exhibitions, theatrical productions, music, film and art-making activities.

But exactly what the deadlines are is unclear.

The limit of the TIF’s rebate period is crucial, as Maude said that if the Arts Center moves forward, it would definitely need those rebated funds to purchase the property. The confusion surrounding the TIF’s rebate period stems from the fact that there are two TIFs in the area, the first of which was modified when the second was created in 2012.

Maude recently sent a letter to the city asking that the city move forward with agreements to make the TIF rebates available to purchase the property. The letter also states that the Arts Center “is interested in directly acquiring” the property.

City Manager Tom Markus told the Lawrence City Commission at its meeting Tuesday that the city has not budgeted to provide the funds required to proceed with the project. He also said the city discovered some discrepancies in the TIF agreements regarding the dates required to initiate the project.

“There’s more than one district involved, and so we’re trying to get alignment between the two of them so that it works to everybody’s benefit in the end,” Markus said.

The Arts Center already uses part of the Salvation Army’s property as green space for its preschool program, and Maude said the center envisions expanding that area and possibly providing space for public art. She said the main reason the Arts Center started the discussion was to get the dates clarified so the whole project doesn’t fall by the wayside.

“That’s really where we are now, is, let’s get the dates clarified and then see if we can make something happen, either through the city or if we can figure out some way to do it on our own,” Maude said. “We’d just hate to lose that space for the good of the preschool, the arts community and the community at large.”

The Salvation Army’s relocation plans are underway, though also still preliminary. In addition to the property near the Arts Center, the social service organization has long owned a property in East Lawrence, located on Haskell Avenue between 15th and 19th streets.

Salvation Army Lieutenant Andy Wheeler said the organization is in the “very early stages” of design for a new building for the East Lawrence site. Wheeler noted there are quite a few more steps, but that the organization is open to working with the Arts Center.

“We know that there’s an interest in that and we certainly are trying to be mindful of making sure that we can honor whatever needs to be honored,” Wheeler said. “And we love the Arts Center, so we want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can.”

Markus told the commission that clarifying the discrepancies with the TIF districts will happen quickly. He said the city is currently working with the developers and bond counsel to make some revisions to those agreements, which will be brought back to the commission for review.

“So you’ll be seeing some of this legislation coming forward in the not-too-distant future,” Markus said.