Downtown LS has changed, for the better

(Column originally ran Feb. 27, 2009)

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Things have certainly changed a lot in downtown Lee’s Summit since I was last here. OK, not completely. And please don’t mistake ‘change’ with any negative vibes.

Change is good. It’s healthy and it keeps us on our toes.

Lee’s Summit’s downtown was always a destinatio

n for my friends and I back when I lived in Independence. The live music was good, the food was unique and the atmosphere was always exceptional. To have all of these elements and not have to fight the crowds and traffic of Kansas City was truly a blessing for us.

And yes, I had to deal with a dose of change when I got back into town.

Chicken ‘n’ Blues and Strothers were favorite hangouts, but now we have Ciao! Bella and The Peanut. I’ve eaten at both in my short time here (on top of my Publisher duties I do consider myself an amateur food critic) and have been impressed with both, especially Ciao! Bella’s Black and Bleu salad – the only way a guy’s going to look tough eating a salad is when they throw a steak on top of it.

Music lovers have many places to stop as well. Third Street Pub and 3-2-1 Club have given way to Sharkeez and Braata – both fun and creative additions to our downtown core.

Clothes, jewelry, furniture, framing, trophies, gourmet food, art…the list goes on and on. It’s an impressive and inspired group of businesses we have down here.

At the quarterly meeting of the Lee’s Summit Main Street organization this week, I was checking the long list of 2009 events.

I thought I had a busy schedule.

The St. Patrick’s Day parade coming up in a few weeks is the kickoff to what promises to be an energetic and rousing time to be in downtown Lee’s Summit.

The Spring Open House, Bunny Hop and Downtown Days follow in March, April and into June with the start of the farmer’s market and the weekly free Friday night concerts a constant staple throughout the season.

Given the enormous growth of Lee’s Summit over the last decade, it’s refreshing to see this city maintain a thriving and exuberant downtown area.

And we must keep in mind that none of events are possible without the dedication of our downtown organizations and strong will of our downtown businesses.

If you haven’t been lately, this is a perfect time of the year to come back.

The Carpenters Union, RED and concerts

(Column originally ran May 1, 2009)

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Representatives from RED Development came by the Journal this week to discuss money.

That seems to be all people are talking about these days.

They were talking about the millions of dollars it is going to take to finish up the enormous project – Summit Fair – at U.S. 50 and Chipman Road.

Some call it a bailout. Others say the money is simply a safety net.

Either way, the lines in the sand have been drawn between those that see the $10 million-plus as a “loan” and those that see it as a means to finish a project that will be huge for Lee’s Summit.

Recently, a flier had been released calling the city council’s decision to underwrite the loans “Another Government Bailout…”

Those that made the flier – Dave Wilson of the Carpenter’s Union has admitted he is the ringleader – said RED is making him and others red with anger.

Equally, RED Development is seeing red about Wilson’s flyer and has been on a mission to set the record straight about it.

Here are the undisputed facts:

JC Penney and Macy’s are booked and going to open this fall. Other stores have verbally committed, but nothing is on paper yet as far as a date to move in. However, RED is positive other stores will be open in 2009 beside JC Penney and Macy’s.

RED is also unable to confirm a restaurant right now, although there are several restaurant pads available. Again, though, they tell us this will happen in time.

Another undisputed fact is this: the economy is making it tough for retail stores to pull the trigger on opening. Whereas a few years ago stores were asking ‘When can I open?’ they are now asking ‘How long can I wait?’

Another area of confusion has been whether or not the downtown concert series will indeed stay downtown this summer.

The official word is in: the concerts are downtown for 2009.

“All three of the concerts are going to be downtown on Green Street,” Joe Snook, assistant administrator of Parks and Recreation, told me yesterday.

Snook did confirm the Parks and Recreation department did have some discussions with RED about having the Blues and Jazz Fest at Summit Fair.

But those conversations were borne out of necessity, he said.

“We lost a major sponsor last year and we’ve been searching for sponsors for quite some time,” Snook said. “We made a long list of possible sponsors and RED was one of them. It came back there was some interest on their part to do some at Summit Fair.”

The fear was that RED would move one of the shows away from downtown. As much as some would not like that, when a company is writing that kind of a check, they can pretty much move it wherever they want.

Parks and Recreation has since secured a partial sponsor for one of the concerts.

And while the concert series is safely downtown this year, the battle to keep it there might become a yearly occurrence.

Sponsors are often hard to come by and the Parks and Recreation department said it has to think about the entirety of Lee’s Summit when it plans these events.

“We have an amphitheater out at Legacy Park, so, to be honest, that could be a future venue,” Snook said. “It’s not absolute these will always be in downtown. We need to be beneficial to the community.”

For now, though, Green Street is still the place to be as Bayou Bash rolls out June 19, followed by the Jamaican Jam on July 17 and the Blues and Jazz Fest Aug. 7.