Lawrence, Kansas: The Rich Heritage

Lawrence has seen growth in the past, outside of the usual population growth, that is, houses. All such imposed growth projects have, to be kind, turned sour. All have involved one or all of a rich people’s consortium.

Let us start with North Lawrence.

North Lawrence is a working class area, a much maligned area in this town of rampant classism. In the 1990s, at the entrance-exit for I-70 on N. 3rd St., a shopping mall was built. Tanger Mall, Tanger Factory Outlet Centre. Tanger is an out-of-state company. And Tanger did absolutely no demographic study, for they opened a mall with nothing that would appeal to the people of North Lawrence or that they could afford. Indeed, people from Lawrence itself, south of the river, would not bother themselves to travel miles into and through unacceptable territory to get to what they could, in fact, access at the south end of town along Iowa St. and on K-10 through town, W. 23rd St. The Mall did not perform well and it was sold to a local consortium in 2000.

What the North Lawrence neighborhood most needed was a grocery store; this was not forthcoming. What they got from Atlanta’s Tanger family was a low-priced bookstore that was, in fact, not so low-priced and stocked with books that were of interest to south of the river residents; even I thought this store’s prices rather high. A pricey cosmetics outlet. Regularly priced clothing stores but no work clothes, leather goods stores; handbags were sold, too. No restaurants were forthcoming.

After the Mall was sold, Burger King put up a stand across the street. And appropriate strip malls were built all along N. 3rd St. with repair shops, multiple restaurants and a Dollar General that has done a smashing business. The Tanger Mall now houses DMV licensing, a State Police office—even the test prep centre failed. Many store fronts stand empty. Scotch Fabric Dry Cleaners rents a large store property every winter and gives winter clothing to the poor and needy.

There are, in fact, many such in Lawrence—and not limited to North Lawrence or even East Lawrence, another much misaligned section of the city. The deterioration of the Federal job situation has been exacerbated by the debacle-making programs of Kansas’ governor, Sam Brownback, making of a thriving town filled to the gills with students, a place of growing poverty where housing is much less than “limited” and the homeless become more numerous and filled to the gills with students, albeit the only Indian University in the country is not to counted.

The working and poorer classes still do not visit Tanger Mall except, perhaps, to get their driver’s licenses. There is nothing there for them. So, not only a loss for Atlanta Tanger, a loss for the rich consortium that bought it. But, hey, they have a vision. And the city collects taxes.

At this point, it might appear that the City Planners and their rich consortium buddies are not very successful or, for that matter, not too far-sighted. And you would not be wrong.

In the 1990s, the Riverside Outlet Mall was built. Fast food restaurants, a discount bookstore, clothing outlets, a few non-retail offices. Right along the Kansas (or Kaw) River at the north end of historic downtown, east of the Bowersock Dam and right at the point where Bald Eagles come to nest in season. For this latter, the riverside walk is closed to visitors, though bird fanciers with cameras flock to the area. A huge bi-level parking area was built up on street level. Yet success was short-lived and the stores closed. A test prep centre died a timely death, as did a telephone answering centre and, more recently—as in a month ago—the downtown Marriott Inn vacated the premises.

Down on the lowest level with entry from the lower parking lot off E. 7th St. is the Heartland Medical Practice, a God-centred practice with ties to the local Community Mental Health Centre, Bert Nash, that serves the poor with Behaviorist and drug therapies but doesn’t do a good job with the homeless or poverty stricken without insurance. WOW!, the horribly expensive and indolent Internet purveyor, is on the top floor. Not enough character-mauling comments can be made about WOW!’s CEO and the company’s offerings. Demograpics are here, again, of no interest at all to the capitalist mentality that only sees resources and profits upon profits, while the poor and the retired are put in the position of choosing food over medicine or vice versa; for, to find jobs any more, the Internet is necessary. And even then, people must spend money traveling back and forth to make interviews.

The Riverside Outlet Mall did not meet expectations. That is, yet another jaded enterprise by the monied consortium, together or individually.

The reason for moving the 9th & New Hampshire bus centre was precipitated by the building, still in progress, of monstrous block buildings reminiscent of 19th century Industrial Revolution architecture in an attempt, we are told, to make Lawrence into a big city, big cities having tall buildings. An apartment-business structure, the new Marriott Inn and an as yet unfinished block-long monstrosity take up three corners; the fourth is doctor’s offices, lawyer’s offices and local businesses, including a coffee shop and a bar, The Bourgeois Pig, that are well-attended and have been for years.

The idea of Lawrence as a big city is ludicrous enough without the old-fashioned, out-of-date architectural vision. The reason for tall buildings was a lack of space on the ground. Thus, with viciously high prices for earthbound expansion and, in fact, a lack of ground, there was only one way to go: up. But Lawrence is not a big city, nor will it ever be. There is little to no industry in Lawrence. There is little in the way of interstate much less intrastate business enacted here, outside of KU basketball. The only big town in Kansas is Wichita, in the south central area of the state not far north of the Oklahoma border, about 50 miles, and about 300 miles from Lawrence.

Topeka, the capital of Kansas, failed as a modern big city: it’s downtown area is more or less a ghost town. Kansas City, KS is bigger than Lawrence; but it is a bedroom community, most people crossing the river for work in Kansas City, MO, the famous Kansas City. It has tall buildings, albeit not many. Lawrence is only 30-40 miles from Kansas City, both KS and MO. There is no need of another big city in the area. There is, in fact, nothing to warrant Lawrence becoming a big city. For this to happen, there would need to be a major revamping of the RR stations, only one of which is used and passenger service only occurs in the wee hrs of the morning, twice, once from east, once from west. And the Greyhound bus station is a gas station out of W. 6th St., visited only once or twice a day and always headed to KC. That is, for instance, if you want to go to Salt Lake City, you must first go to KC and wait four hours or so to catch a bus going north or south before making a connection to get you, days down the road, to Salt Lake City. That is to say, there is no interstate connected travel in Kansas, much less Lawrence.

So, what is to happen to the unfinished old-fashioned building at 9th & New Hampshire? As it is, getting to and from the Marriott Inn which does big business at the beginning and end of the school year and during sports season, is not easy. Narrow streets and stop signs at every corner. . .and no directional signs.

Earlier this 21st century, the rich man’s business consortium destroyed shops up on the hill (The Hill = KU) and a dormitory in order to put in a high class hotel. This is filled only at the same times the Marriott Inn is filled. As not enough income was being generated, these rich investors managed to get pushed through a measure that allowed them to circumvent the law regarding tailgating on public streets: an entire block of Indiana St. is now cordoned off for home sports games so that tailgating income can be generated for the owners, nothing for the city. The private family owned housing across from the hotel be damned. That is, this high end hotel investment went sour, as the Tanger Mall and the Riverside Mall did.

Now that a K-10 bypass around Lawrence has been all but completed, these same rich guys want to build a strip mall at the southern city border in the name of garnering more income, more for themselves than for the city, of course. The reason for a highway bypass is to bypass business concerns and quickly get to the other side of town. So, why yet another strip mall? Is anyone thinking here? If so, only of dollar signs—and who cares if it sours? R. L. Stevenson wrote a good novel that illustrates this point, though it is perhaps more apt for the oil industry: The Wrecker. A wrecked business is worth more than the good business; the wrecking is built into the design.

One wonders what will happen next in historical, pleasant almost to a park Lawrence. Of course, the park-like atmosphere of Lawrence ends at W. 23rd St. where strip mall mid-America begins and proceeds west at the intersection with Iowa St. before growing exponentially south. Shopping, shopping, shopping.

Oh! But even worse is coming!

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