A little over a month ago, bulldozers and heavy equipment descended upon Third and Green streets in downtown Lee’s Summit.
And with them, a stir of chatter and social media discussion.
From residents to council members to business owners in downtown, there are a lot of people in the dark about just what exactly is happening with the $600,000 Downtown Lee’s Summit Performance Space project that was placed on the April 2013 ballot and passed overwhelmingly by the voters.
That space was originally planned for land known as the Dahmer property between SW Main and Market streets, just west of the Lee’s Summit Historical Museum (another project that was part of that 2013 ballot). When city officials realized that the land was going to cost considerably more than first projected, alternate sites began to be considered for this outdoor performance space.
Word got out that the new space would be across from the Lee’s Summit City Hall, and in fact the expanded project would include a new home for the Farmers Market, thus making multiple land acquisitions or trades necessary. Not only that, two years ago we were told the price tag for the venue could reach 12-times the originally projected cost. And that projection from just two short years ago could even be conservative in today’s dollars.
While I will stop short of terming this entire process as layered in secrecy, it certainly hasn’t been well publicized or communicated to the voters.
While we visit the new Museum and attend performances at the Legacy Park Ampitheater (also approved in April 2013) we are left to largely guess what is happening across from City Hall, if it is still happening across from City Hall and exactly what groups are leading this charge.
Councilman Rob Binney, whose District 1 includes all of downtown Lee’s Summit, answered a few questions via e-mail from me recently, specifically about the demolition of the Lion’s Den (which, at Binney’s behest, was discussed at the May 21 City Council meeting) and what exactly the plan is now.
“I didn’t know until I saw the Lion’s Den coming down that it was happening. I had asked for it when we purchased over a year ago, but I guess the timing wasn’t right.
“As for a plan, The City Council and Downtown CID had an agreement, and I think we confirmed with a resolution, to partner and use that opportunity to not only deliver the outdoor performance space that voters approved in 2013, but to partner in developing a new Market Center for our downtown area. One that could host the Farmer’s Market, festivals, events, and many new opportunities. That has now been at least two years, possibly more … where is it now … good question.”
Cheryl Nash with the City’s communication department also gave me an update, stating: “A Design Program was created from the September 8 and 9 planning charrette with the City of Lee's Summit and various downtown stakeholders, such as the Downtown Community Improvement District and Lee’s Summit Downtown Main Street representatives. From that program, the City Council has been supportive in our efforts to begin assembling property that conform with the design program. Due to the conversations relating to the potential purchase of additional properties, our ongoing conversation with the City Council, Downtown Community Improvement District and Lee’s Summit Downtown Main Street and our ongoing efforts to assemble these properties is considered confidential.”
Note to city and all those involved: many residents spent many hours helping pass this ballot measure in 2013. While we understand that land deals can and should be done behind closed doors (especially given the City’s propensity to continue to plan projects on land it doesn’t own) we also find it a bit disingenuous that regular updates are not happening.
The CID has over $1 million accumulated since its inception. Are those funds entirely heading toward this project? Word is that several more million could be made available from city funds. And, at some point, a public ask and capital campaign may be a part of this process.
Talk from last summer was that Council, the Community Improvement District and Downtown Main Street would be meeting to discuss the project, which could be changing focus from a performance space and market to one of commercial development.
More than 4,000 residents voted for the project. And I would bet many of them would be at the ready to support it in any way they can.
Have your meetings. Make your deals. Let’s get moving on this.
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.