Lee's Summit has made some bold statements in the last decade regarding development.
In the middle of a recession, Summit Fair was born. Our Summit Woods TIF has been held up as a shining example of when incentives work for the betterment of the economy, development and jobs. Single- and multi-family housing has gone vertical in all corners of town, the long-term effects of which we see in our tax base and workforce.
Now isn't the time to go backward on development. And now certainly isn't the time to tell Metro and regional developers that we may not be open for business.
Interestingly — and unfairly, probably — this decision could land on just one City Council member. We'll get to that.
The development of the soon-to-be abandoned Lee's Summit United Methodist Church at Douglas and Second streets in downtown Lee's Summit should be a no-brainer.
I say "should" because, predictably, hyperbole and politics have gotten in the way of what could be the single biggest project in downtown Lee's Summit’s history.
Cityscape Residential has proposed around 275 one- and two-bedroom apartments on the site. A project that also preserves the historic church structure, would bring some 400 new residents to Lee's Summit. And, yes, to downtown Lee's Summit.
When you consider not only the history of successful projects this developer has executed, but also the fact that we literally have just a few dozen downtown residents living in our central business district, I cannot imagine a better plan for a site that has sat for sale for almost six years.
But instead of applauding the bold, financial move of a company to bring such a project to Lee's Summit, some members of the TIF commission unfortunately decided to talk down to the presenter, Curt Peterson of Polsinelli Law Firm, announcing "don't insult us" when it comes to "residential TIFs" (which this is not) or that, somehow, traffic is "already a mess" when driving on Douglas.
When you couple these shallow remarks with ridiculous concerns of toilet flushing and increased taxes, we see just how quickly a positive narrative can turn ugly.
TIF commissioners are volunteers, yes. But that any of them talk down to or disrespectfully to applicants is simply out of line. If they cannot find better ways to communicate, remove them from the dais. We've been through too many years of televised shenanigans and people with microphones not upholding the standards of what we expect in Lee's Summit.
And in my latter example of hyperbole, we heard sweeping generalizations from a person that already has given us a few headaches on the school board, Jackie Clark. Clark's assertion that traffic is a mess isn't at all metered in fact. City traffic experts have told us Second and Douglas can handle a few hundred additional cars.
Clark and Dennis Smith — two members of our R-7 Board of Education that already have questionable decisions under their elected belts — are now making decisions not in the best interests of our economic development and future of Lee's Summit on this city commission.
At one point, Smith quipped to the applicant "which story is it?" when trying to paint Peterson in a corner on whether or not part of the parking on Douglas would be property of the school district or not. Another time, Smith tried a "gotcha" moment when he was failing to make a point that Peterson had not adequately had discussions with district leaders. Turns out, he had. Smith also attempted to push Peterson in a corner while asking about costs to hire additional teachers (taking the leap that our schools would see an influx of students with such a project, which they will not).
I don't care if you’re elected or appointed, that's not how we have discourse on a higher level. Developers and all of Kansas City are taking note of what we do here in Lee's Summit. They have been for a long time.
That a developer has a plan to spend tens of millions of dollars — while responsibly making a plan to build a parking garage to ease parking tensions in downtown — speaks volumes about how far our downtown and our city have come over the last decade.
Change is hard. I get that.
The skyline in New Longview is different. Neighborhoods are building out all over Lee's Summit. New businesses are finding homes here. And new residents continue to call Lee's Summit home every single day.
In this case, hundreds of new residents calling Lee's Summit home. Hundreds of new residents we can welcome to downtown Lee's Summit. That will shop here. Buy their insurance here. Eat and drink all over Lee's Summit. Visit our farmers market, Summit Woods, businesses on 150, 291 and all over town.
Consider these stats from the Lee's Summit Economic Development Council.
"For every dollar earned, it typically multiplies eight times," LSEDC President Rick McDowell said. "The fact they are across the street from downtown, it will have a positive effect on downtown. That is the national movement. People want to be in the center of the community. And this is it."
Not only does the LSEDC support this project, but Lee's Summit Chamber of Commerce President Blake Fry spoke in favor of it at the TIF Commission meeting. And, of course, Downtown Lee's Summit Main Street is absolutely on board with increasing the number of downtown residents.
Sadly, none of these voices were heard at the TIF meeting. And among those voices ignored were members of the church and downtown business owners.
In fact, one commission member noted that the primary beneficiary of the project would be "already booming businesses in downtown Lee's Summit."
That kind of short-sighted thinking is dangerous on any of our citizen-led commissions. And, frankly, it's downright unfair. That kind of slap in the face to longstanding downtown businesses ignores their experience and the strength of their voice when addressing the commission and discussing a topic as weighty as this.
These people should be heard.
I called DLSMS Board of Directors president Dave Eames while he was out of town in Seattle at the national convention to get his thoughts on the vote and future of the project.
"As a board and an organization, it's not lost on us that, here we are at the country's largest main street organization, at our annual get together, talking all about the things that make Lee's Summit awesome, and to hear how the TIF vote went down is frustrating," Eames said. "We're frustrated with the outcome and we expected more. The uniqueness of this project was sort of lost in this conversation. This type of project doesn't roll around every year."
I would be surprised to find out if most of the TIF commissioners had traveled outside of Lee's Summit to see one of these creative housing projects
Do these people travel outside of LS? Do they even know what these developments do for our community?
The TIF vote now forces the City Council to come up with six members to approve the measure at the April 16 meeting. And most likely, the swing member is Craig Faith.
The other “no” votes aside, Johnson has long been allowed tirades on “residential TIFs” and “prevailing wage” when he has his turn at the microphone. It's absolutely no surprise at all that these same, tired catchphrases made their way into the narrative of some of the commissioners.
We've grown beyond such embellishment and exaggeration, haven't we?
Cityscape is a stellar organization with an innovative plan that helps maintain our history, relieve downtown parking stresses and puts people into our community that will spend dollars here, work here and, we hope, love Lee's Summit as much as we do.
Our Master Plan calls for more housing. And calls for downtown housing pour into our Main Street office on a weekly basis.
How on earth can we say no to this project?
Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees or any other guest contributors.