By Dalia Díaz
The most recent meeting of the Lawrence Redevelopment Authority (LRA) was held on January 24, 2024. Several things interested me and for three hours I sat quietly just listening, observing, and taking notes of things that I didn’t understand, and others which will be explained below.
My main concern was the progress of the Community Television station. On December 22, 2023, there was an article in Rumbo with photos describing the space at 255 Essex St., which Mayor Brian DePeña and Néstor Castillo were kind enough to show me. Right there, I explained my reasons for not being suitable for a studio, but they have continued with their plans.
For those who may not know enough about how that works, here is a portion of the contract between the City of Lawrence and Comcast (Verizon’s is very similar).
Public-access television – Generally quite free of editorial control, a form of non-commercial mass media where ordinary people can create television programming content that is transmitted through cable TV. The channels are reserved free or at a minimal cost. The local origination television content revolves primarily around community interest, developed by individuals and nonprofit organizations.
Section 53F3/4. Notwithstanding section 53 or any other general or special law to the contrary, a municipality that accepts this section may establish in the treasury a separate revenue account to be known as the PEG Access and Cable Related Fund, into which may be deposited funds received in connection with a franchise agreement between a cable operator and the municipality. Monies in the fund shall only be appropriated for cable-related purposes consistent with the franchise agreement, including, but not limited to (i) support of public, educational, or governmental access cable television services; (ii) monitoring compliance of the cable operator with the franchise agreement, or (iii) prepare for renewal of the franchise license.
The role of the city is to be just the fiscal agent for all three channels.
Keep in mind that these are two buildings next to each other divided by a wall. 255 Essex will be for the television studio and 237 – 247 will become offices.
At this meeting, one of the Neh Koo Dah architects made a presentation about their drawings and it became ever clearer to me that they had no idea of what they were doing. She kept referring to the “city studio” and how they will be able to use it for presentations with an audience or guest speakers and merge the activities of the LRA and SBA offices on the other side with the space dedicated to the community studio.
Once that wall is removed, it will become one big open space, and everyone will work together like a family. She referred to the “kitchen” on the other building for common use, and, the School Department, which is upstairs, will use the same entrance at 255 Essex to go up.
Please keep in mind that there are no dressing rooms, no editing rooms and no storage area for the different sets to be used.
I must confess that the knowledge of what role the LRA plays in this still escapes me. This building is city-owned, and they won’t be managing the cable companies’ funds so, what’s their involvement?
During the meeting, a check for $6,250 was paid to Neh Koo Dah as a partial payment. From what funds are they getting paid? Is it from the LRA, the city’s ARPA money, or Comcast and Verizon’s funds destined for the Community television station?
Curiously, they requested the check be made payable to Bennie Ber, principal of the company.
Other topics discussed at the meeting:
Environmental Engineering received $25,200 as a partial payment for a traffic lights study. Some board members told me they had no idea what they did for that money.
After speaking via Zoom with James Carra, Consultant and Harvard Instructor, the Board approved a payment for James Carra, of $14,000. He charges $195/hour.
And, just before the meeting adjourned, the Board President Eric Walker reminded everyone that they have to discuss in the future The White Fund Paintings.
That was on the agenda for the July 17 meeting. Does that issue belong to the LRA? A few years ago, the situation of those paintings was analyzed, as to what the city would have to do to bring them to Lawrence. In the end, they left it that way because they were safer at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
The LRA meets in the mayor’s conference room once a month but Octavien Spanner, the executive director announced that beginning next month, they will be meeting in the Community Development office which recently moved to the Riverwalk.
This organization oversees many valuable city properties, and a lot of money is being dealt with at this level. I believe that their meetings should take place in a public arena, where the residents can attend, and preferably videotaped.