May 28, 2023

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Changes in City Hall?

Will a new city manager and a remodeled city commission bring about any improvements in Lawrence’s reputation as a town with a negative, anti-growth, increasingly liberal attitude?

This regional and national image is real, it’s a fact, not a slanted opinion. It has hindered and handicapped both Lawrence and the University.

Developers and entrepreneurs, regional and national, look upon Lawrence as a community stacked against new challenging development. It is viewed as a community with a hostile, anti-cooperative environment nourished by previous city managers, city staffers trying to control and protect their fiefdoms, city administrators, city commissioners and neighborhood factions within the community.

Along with these situations are the citizens who are too lazy, or afraid to step on toes or offend someone by taking a stand on important and/or controversial issues. Or, maybe the problem is a majority of Lawrence residents think everything is okay, the city is headed the right direction and all is right in city hall. This could be due to the huge percentage of people who live in Lawrence but work elsewhere and consequently have limited interest or concern about anything in Lawrence other than if they can get onto city streets when it snows.

Currently early organizational efforts are under way by city officials to develop a new plan for the future of Lawrence’s downtown. The first meeting of about 50 persons was held to identify big, major needs and projects to help stimulate and invigorate the downtown area. One such idea is to shut down one of the lanes on the Kaw River Bridge so the space could be used for art exhibitions, etc.

There was nothing about how to attract new business and industry, new residents and new taxpayers.

As it is with the attitude of past occupants of city hall and city commissioners, the future of downtown Lawrence is fairly bleak. There is no space to grow as it is bounded by Old West Lawrence, East Lawrence, South Park and the Kaw River.

City restrictions on the height of buildings, the lack of public parking, the inability to build a large facility with a major frontage, no way to expand the downtown footprint, an almost violent opposition to anything that would damage or eliminate a so-called “historical” building….all combine to create a belief there won’t be any sizable new retail developments or major venue to attract business, shoppers and visitors.

It’s not an optimistic outlook for downtown Lawrence other than to have it be an entertainment center.

Lawrence needs developments or attractions that will bring large numbers of visitors and Lawrence residents to downtown. Unfortunately, such an asset is almost impossible to develop in the downtown area with the current thinking in city hall.

Right now about the only issues that seem to be attractive and interesting to city hall officials and commissioners is to make Lawrence a sanctuary city and to allow and/or encourage greater use of marijuana.

Will either of these actions make Lawrence a better, more attractive city? Depends upon whom you ask….local residents, people thinking about moving to Lawrence, developers and entrepreneurs considering starting a business or new industry in Lawrence and even parents of high school students debating whether to encourage their sons and daughters to come to Lawrence to attend KU.

As it is, student enrollment is a major concern at KU as well as other schools and universities. Faced with this challenge and competition from other schools and cities, school officials are becoming more and more concerned about the overall attractiveness of the host city.

A vital and attractive community with sound and visionary leadership, good law enforcement and job opportunities for students as well as their spouses all play a significant role in helping sell a university to students and their parents.

The welfare of Lawrence and the University are intertwined and university and city leaders, as well as the entire community, need to combine and marshal their efforts to make Lawrence the nation’s best university city.

There’s no reason Lawrence and KU cannot regain the enthusiasm, excitement and records of achievement which used to make this city a model for the entire country.

The first step would be for a sea change in the attitudes and vision of those in city hall.