2010 Great American Main Street Awards

Lee's Summit, Missouri

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Each year, the National Trust Main Street Center recognizes the best and the brightest – five Main Street communities whose passion, innovation, and inspiring success serve as a model for comprehensive commercial district revitalization throughout the nation. Selected by a nationwide jury of five community development experts, each of the winners has proven that incremental progress – and persistence – pays off, creating economic vitality, a unique sense of place, and a greater commitment to community by all of its residents.

Lees Summit Missouri streetscapeWalk down the streets of downtown Lee’s Summit and you’ll see the power of 20 years of Main Street in action.

The strength of this Missouri town’s Main Street program comes from its partnerships. As Lee’s Summit grew from a sleepy town to a booming suburban metropolis of nearly 100,000, city officials, business owners, and residents struggled to strike a balance between the “old” and the “new.”

City at a Crossroads

When Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street was formed in 1989, 19 buildings were vacant and many businesses were closing up shop. Sprawl and the dazzle of new strip centers tarnished downtown’s appeal as investors turned away from declining properties and buildings covered with metal façades. Downtown was truly at a crossroads.

Committed to saving their downtown, stakeholders went to the city with a common voice and suggested they team up to develop a revitalization plan. The Vision of the Heart master plan was born, and Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street (DLSMS) was formed. Main Street immediately forged a strong partnership with the city and rallied support for downtown improvements.

Completed in 1993, the Vision of the Heart master plan provides a comprehensive strategy for downtown economic growth, with guidelines for land use and business recruitment and retention. Using the master plan as a guide, the city offers economic incentives to encourage adaptive re-use and redevelopment of underutilized property and to achieve the desired business mix.

The city issues Requests for Proposals on sites deemed underutilized. Proposals are accepted based on how well they adhere to the master plan and follow preservation principles. DLSMS works closely with the city to encourage appropriate projects and educate investors about historic tax credits and other available incentives.

Lees Summit MO sidewalk saleDLSMS and downtown merchants also rallied support for a citywide bond issue to fund a new streetscape. Passed with an overwhelming 68 percent approval, the $13.5 million project replaced antiquated utilities and added wider sidewalks, trees, and pedestrian street lighting. The city reinforced this commitment by building a new $18 million City Hall and public parking garage. Even during construction, excitement over the new public investment spurred private spending as 20 new businesses opened amidst the jackhammers and bulldozers.

Thanks to the strong teamwork between the city and DLSMS, the downtown currently enjoys an 87 percent occupancy rate, while sales tax revenue has risen nearly 600 percent over the past 10 years. Public and private investment is at an all-time high, with $44.8 million in public and $20.6 million in private investment since 1989.With an estimated 450,000 square feet of commercial space, the downtown core now serves as the city’s government, specialty retail, and religious center. Despite aggressive commercial development on the outskirts of town, the downtown’s real estate market remains healthy, with high occupancy levels and escalating property values.

“Downtown is a reflection of how a community sees itself,” says James A. Devine, president of the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council. “One of my roles is to bring investment into Lee’s Summit. A thriving downtown district like the one we enjoy is an important selling point in my recruitment tool box.”

Diggin.it Downtown

“Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street transforms challenges into opportunities,” says DLSMS Board Member Drayton W. Riley.

Nothing illustrates that more than the Main Street program’s activities during the 18-month streetscape construction. Through a comprehensive online, advertising, and image campaign, along with weekly merchants meetings, Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street’s “diggin.it” initiative kept the public and the business community informed about the streetscape’s progress.

DLSMS also teamed up with the Lee’s Summit Arts Council to create “Art Detour,” a series of temporary public art installations to draw people downtown during the streetscape construction. Postcards and opening ceremonies invited townsfolk to come downtown and view each new piece. The partnership between the arts council and DLSMS eventually led to the downtown’s first permanent public art sculpture, Kids at Heart, designed by renowned sculptor Kwan Wu.

Another construction-related project, “Dumpsters in Bloom,” again illustrates the ability of DLSMS to build strong, productive partnerships. The Main Street organization joined forces with the Beautification Commission and high school art students to beautify downtown alleyways and make them more appealing passageways during the streetscape construction. Downtown merchants, the city, the waste disposal company, and local teens embraced the idea. With artistic direction from a downtown merchant and artist, the students designed floral themes and then painted them on the dumpsters. To this day, beautiful floral-painted dumpsters adorn the downtown’s alleyways!Lees Summit MO It All Starts Here

“It All Starts Here”

With all the exciting changes happening downtown, DLSMS realized it needed to promote its new image with a fresh, high-energy marketing campaign.

“It All Starts Here” was developed as a simple yet compelling brand that could be easily incorporated into all marketing materials and events. The image was designed as a cutting-edge visual that reflects a new era and a new attitude downtown.

Embracing the image, the DLSMS Promotion Committee has integrated the brand into all of its activities, from planning new events such as a Chocolate Crawl to encourage Valentine’s Day shopping to revamping an old festival to reflect the new downtown. All marketing materials have been overhauled and new channels such as Facebook and Twitter deliver Downtown Lee’s Summit’s message: “You can go shopping anywhere but for unique shopping ‘It All Starts Here.’”

Teaming Up for Success

Lees Summit MO Gold's RehabDowntown Lee’s Summit Main Street is a model of teamwork and cooperation. It worked closely with the local Historic Preservation Commission to establish a downtown National Historic District that has seen more than 50 building rehabilitations over the past 20 years. The city not only lends the program financial support and in-kind services but also has a liaison on the Main Street board of directors.

All DLSMS events are promoted and supported by the Chamber of Commerce, which also works with Main Street to provide hospitality training. The Parks Department assists with summer concerts and the beautification of downtown green spaces, and a local foundation provided a grant to launch a WiFi program in the downtown core. DLSMS also partners with nearby schools to offer students part-time jobs and internships.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Lee’s Summit Main Street consistently provides strong leadership, education, promotional opportunities, and networking to downtown businesses to help them thrive.

While Lee’s Summit has faced explosive growth over the past 25 years, it has always looked to downtown as its core − the place that links people to their past; the place that reminds them of who they are; the place they view as home − the heart and soul of their city.