The Lawrence City Commission approved a plan Tuesday night that would temporarily make a number of physical changes to Massachusetts Street to free up more space for businesses to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The plan temporarily changes the parking availability on Massachusetts Street. It would give businesses more space for outdoor operation and increased social distancing.
Especially with students returning to the University of Kansas in the fall, Downtown Lawrence Inc. executive director Sally Zogry said adding more space is necessary.
“We need to expand, period,” Zogry said. “We need to expand so that visitors and residents feel comfortable being downtown.”
Under the plan, the angled parking spots that line Massachusetts Street will be converted into parallel parking spots and space for outdoor dining, retail and pedestrians. The parallel spots will be short-term, where people can park for curbside pickup. ADA compliant angled spots will still be available on every block.
The width of the driving lanes will remain the same, and traffic will continue in both directions.
The changes are meant to encourage space for social distancing, make room for sanitizing stations and give outdoor space to businesses who have to reduce inside capacity.
The plan was developed by Downtown Lawrence Inc. and Gould Evans, a Kansas City, Missouri, based architecture firm that has worked on the plan pro bono.
Originally, the changes were set to last through Dec. 31, but the commission requested the date be changed to Oct. 31, since the cold weather will limit the use of the extra space.
Each block of downtown Massachusetts Street will look slightly different to accommodate individual building infrastructure, meet fire codes and maintain ADA compliant parking spots.
In addition to the physical changes, Gould Evans developed a marketing campaign to communicate how the downtown area has changed, and encourage customers to come back.
One question raised by the commission is what would happen to the additional space if businesses decide not to use it. Representatives from Gould Evans said it would be available for pedestrians to use.
The project will cost the city approximately $100,000 in work and building materials, according to the agenda item report.
The plan, first discussed at a June 2 meeting, has received mixed reactions from owners of downtown businesses. Owners from Jock’s Nitch Sports, the Dusty Bookshelf, Global Cafe and others sent a letter asking the commission to reject the plan, as they want customers to have convenient parking downtown.
“Eliminating angle parking spaces and providing only a few short-term parallel parking spaces on Massachusetts Street will decrease, not increase, the viability of downtown as a whole,” the letter said. “Our customers depend on and expect convenient parking near our businesses.”
Owners from Weaver’s, Jefferson’s, the Toy Store and others sent letters asking the commission to pass the resolution, as the additional space would help them maximize their business in a safe way. Nate Morsches, co-founder and president of RPG (Restaurant, Pub & Games), spoke virtually at the meeting in support of the plan.
The commission also received a range of responses from Lawrence residents. Some said in letters the lack of parking would make it difficult to shop downtown, while others said the plan doesn’t go far enough to create space.
The commission passed the plan in a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Lisa Larsen and Stuart Boley voting against it. Although the resolution passed, the specifics of the plan are subject to change. The commission also requested several adjustments and considerations be made before it is put into place.
“[DLI] knows that change is hard, especially on top of this pandemic,” Zogry said. “We feel that by working for the greater good and trying to create new opportunities to engage with the public, draw them downtown, make them feel good about that, we will all benefit."