May 28, 2023

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What’s the Future of Lawrence?

Is the city going to grow into a larger and better community or is it likely to gradually slip in both population and excellence, lose its separate and proud identity and become merely another suburb of Kansas City?

Until a few days ago, the easy answer to this question would have been….a great deal depends on the just-elected Lawrence City Commission and USD 464 School Board members.
Have Lawrence voters put individuals into these offices who have excellent personal business or professional records, leadership, experience, courage, honesty and most importantly, a challenging vision for the future of Lawrence?

Unfortunately, the public doesn’t know much about the new members of the city commission and board of education….even the thoughts of the incumbents. They all say they want a good community, a clean city, good public education, a progressive environment, honest government and law enforcement, job opportunities for those with various skills and levels of education, good health care and housing for all incomes.

Sounds good but the public doesn’t have much knowledge of the intentions and desires of these officeholders relative to issues that are splitting cities of all sizes across the country.

  • How do these men and women plan to address the Critical Race Theory, the cancel philosophy and what children in the Lawrence public school system will be taught?
  • What position will these officeholders take on the matter of law enforcement, defunding of police and reducing the number of police officers?

Little, if anything, about these two issues was asked of the commission and school board candidates and yet these questions or issues are the top local concerns of most Americans. Local taxpayers and parents can’t do much about national or international issues but they can, and do have increasing interest and concern about law enforcement and education policies in their communities.

Those in the Lawrence media didn’t ask the tough questions of candidates, candidates were not going to say anything that might offend voters and the public has no way of knowing what paths the commissioners and school board members will follow.

The answers can and will play a significant role in what happens in Lawrence over the next five or ten years. Will Lawrence be an attractive, exciting, progressive city or one torn and divided by special interests?

Unfortunately, the performance of Lawrence City Commissioners over the past ten or 15 years has been identified as the biggest reason Lawrence has failed to enjoy reasonable growth in business and industry. In many ways, Lawrence has lost its excitement, enthusiasm and positive outlook.

Obviously there are many other groups, bodies, committees, boards, consultants and volunteers who play a critical role in the development of a city but at the end….city commissioners call the shots unless the differences end up in court battles. What do we have and what can we expect with the new city commission?

A top flight city commission and a highly motivated school board stressing excellence and achievement would serve as a bright green light and powerful push forward for the city. Otherwise, the drifting and special interests will continue to handicap the city and keep it from coming anywhere near its potential as a world-class university city.


However, a new development has entered the picture that could have a huge impact on the city.

Officers of the Kansas University Endowment Association and the chancellor’s office have entered into an agreement for the KUEA to provide land for the University, or maybe for the KUEA to create a “business park” that would go into competition with local merchants and landowners.

KUEA owns property adjacent to the campus ideal for businesses. Over the years KUEA has turned down many individuals or companies who wanted to buy KUEA land for commercial development. KUEA wanted to preserve these sites for future building or recreational uses and to maintain the physical beauty of the area surrounding the campus.

Now, perhaps due to the recommendation of a recent consulting firm hired by the University to tell school officials how to run the school, get a better return on their dollars and investments, attract more students and research facilities, trim unproductive programs and faculty….KUEA and the Chancellor have decided to get the school into private business.

Or, possibly, the consultant and University officers agreed, Lawrence for one reason or another has not or does not provide the upscale, higher-class facilities and services desired by students, faculty, research company employees or business interests who would be attracted by nicer and better housing and services. Maybe KUEA and KU officials are tired of waiting for Lawrence to provide the hotels, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. necessary to be competitive with other university cities.

Could Lawrence already have had such inviting and upscale facilities but past city commissioners, city planning, zoning and other city bodies didn’t have the vision or maybe didn’t want the city to grow into an even finer community?

This development raises many questions. One of which is, can the University or KUEA, or private businesses, build facilities on KUEA/KU land that would not be allowed in Downtown Lawrence or other business areas along West 23rd, Ninth Street and South Iowa? Do Lawrence’s building restrictions for buildings or retail facilities apply to Endowment/KU land?

What will happen to the so-called “Beautiful Historic Downtown” with many of the major businesses seeking locations on the campus? Will the selection of stores, hotels, apartment houses, restaurants, etc. be open for all comers?

Will the general public be allowed to use these facilities, and, if so, how will this impact current Lawrence businesses? Could current local businesses be priced out of the KUEA/KU project due to higher costs of land, etc.?

And, is this one way for the University and KUEA to become more profitable as was suggested by the consulting company?

It’s difficult to know what to expect about the future of Lawrence….and KU. In the past the Lawrence/KU “town gown” relationship was looked to as one of the best in the country. Leaders in other university cities frequently asked local officials what was the secret in developing such a mutually beneficial relationship.

It used to be “what is good for Lawrence is good for the University and what is good for the University is good for Lawrence.”

Unfortunately this special relationship seems to be weakening with more people wondering if Lawrence is gradually moving to be looked to, or called, a “company town” with KU playing the controlling role of the company.

The one certain thing is due to various reasons this is a critical time for the City and University. There are a number of individuals who want the best for both the City and University but they remain silent and for some reason do not want to assume the role of leaders and visionaries.

The biggest, most essential, most effective need in Lawrence and KU today is leadership. Without true leadership Lawrence/KU cannot and will not be looked to as truly special and successful.
Over the years both Lawrence and the University have traveled a road of excellence, enthusiasm and accomplishment but today they are coming to a major intersection with one highway called “Greater Accomplishments” and the other called “Missed Opportunities”. Which will be the future path?

True leadership in Lawrence and at the University will make the difference.