Downtown Lee's Summit honored with two state awards

Missouri Main Street Connection Inc. (MMSC) presented downtown revitalization awards on July 25, 2019, recognizing revitalization excellence during the annual Missouri Main Street Conference in St. Louis. The event was hosted at The Westin St. Louis.

The ceremony honored communities, individuals, businesses, and organizations from across the state that have completed exemplary work in downtown revitalization. Competitive nominations were submitted for projects, activities and individuals in 14 different categories that covered aspects of design, economic vitality, organization, promotion, and other efforts in downtown revitalization.

The rehabilitation of the Local Foundery building at 307 SW Market in downtown Lee’s Summit perfectly showcases why a building does not have to be over 100 years old to be worthy of preservation. Originally constructed in the early 1960s as a simplistic masonry block fire station garage, the building served as a fire station for nearly 20 years.

In 1977 it was given new life as the home for Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation and the Market Street Neighborhood Center. After renovations in 1977, the original garage doors were closed in to create meeting space and the exterior was wrapped in vertical wood slats. After the Parks and Rec department moved out in 2007, the building sat vacant for 10 years until the City declared it surplus property and sought bids for its purchase.

While many deemed it to have no historic significance, new owners Ben Wine and Dave Eames embraced the mid-century character of the exterior building. In 2017, when it was for sale, the building was one of the last intact buildings to reflect a mid-century modern exterior. Many other examples of similar architecture in downtown Lee’s Summit had been updated and altered to remove the mid-century character.

Ben and Dave knew it needed updated to fill a desperate need for more retail space in downtown Lee’s Summit and because of that they uncovered the former garage bays and installed 48’ of storefront glass to create an inviting retail environment. The existing overhang was maintained and restored inset lighting that existed with the late 1970s renovations were preserved. The weathered vertical wood slats were removed from the exterior of the building and replaced with a Brazilian walnut called Ipe. Ipe is naturally resistant to rot, insects, and other abrasions which provides it a longer lifespan than other hardwood siding.

The storefront was one of the first to reintroduce neon signage downtown after an initiative of the Downtown Lee’s Summit Design Committee to update the existing ordinances to include neon as a historically appropriate sign material in downtown. The neon letters for the sign were individually hand fabricated just a block away at Fossil Forge Designs.

The building, with its mid-century modern architecture, is a piece in the overall puzzle of downtown Lee’s Summit’s historic fabric. While not what other may traditionally feel should be preserved, it tells part of Lee’s Summit’s story in a way that older buildings cannot.

In 2018, the National Main Street Center and Missouri Main Street Connection worked together to bring the Main Street Now Conference to Kansas City. Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street was selected to host the Big Bash, an end-of-conference celebration for all attendees.

Downtown Lee’s Summit knew they wanted to create an event to celebrate the power of Main Street and showcase the accomplishments of their organization throughout their nearly 30 year history. A major obstacle faced was educating conference attendees how the Big Bash in Lee’s Summit would be unlike any Big Bash they had attended before. This including special mailings and a promotional video to build excitement.

Downtown Lee’s Summit also had to figure out how to fund the event, setting a goal of $30,000 which was exceeded with over $60,000 ultimately raised. In addition to the monetary support, the over 100 community volunteers logged over 550 volunteer hours.

The evening of the Big Bash was a showcase of what makes downtown Lee’s Summit special – the people. Attendees were welcomed as they arrived by volunteers and the Chiefs Rumble Drum Line. They were given a field guide to the downtown that contained a $25 downtown gift card to use at any downtown business.

The impact of the event was measured with 626 attendees from 46 states and Canada, a 32.4% increase from the prior year. Attendees spent their $25 gift card in 33 retail shops and 23 bars and restaurants. They spent on average $89 resulting in over $55,000 spent in downtown in four short hours. The event was a great celebration not only for the conference attendees, but for the community in their support of and pride in downtown Lee’s Summit.

Missouri Main Street Connection is a non-profit designed to help communities preserve their historic commercial districts through economic revitalization. Based on economic data collected from the communities in the top three tiers of the Missouri Main Street program, since 2006, $771 million of private investments have been made in the Main Street communities. Public investments by municipal governments have totaled $169 million in improvements to infrastructure. Missouri Main Street programs have also successfully created 775 net new businesses and 3,873 net new jobs.