Architects designing new Lee’s Summit festival space

rpulley@lsjournal.comAugust 23, 2013 

  • $600,000 Budget for downtown festival space in lot at 207 SW Market Street

User groups who’ll hold events in a festival plaza to be built in downtown Lee’s Summit met this week to discuss ideas with architects who are designing the facility.

Voters in April approved a bond issue to support cultural arts in Lee’s Summit and it included $600,000 for a festival space at behind a historic U.S. Post Office that for a while served as City Hall..

The city is also undertaking a $660,000 renovation of the post office 220 SW Main Street for a museum housing the collection of the Lee’s Summit Historical Society.

The city demolished an annex behind the building and sold the vacant lot, but the city plans to repurchase that site and improve it for the festival space, for smaller concerts, plays or events like art festivals could be held.

Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street Inc. says it’s important to build a public space on the west side of the Union Pacific Railroad track to help create synergy for each side of downtown.

The group talked about anticipated crowd sizes and other issues.

The anticipated crowds would be 100 to 400, comparable to crowds already are attending Friday night concerts in a nearby park. Some larger events would also utilize the festival space for part of their activities.

The uses will evolve, said Brad Cox, one of the chairs for the bond campaign and a member of the Cultural Arts Facility Task Force.

“Some will flop, and we’ll say ‘we’ll never do that again,’ ” Cox said. “Others we’ll say ‘oh my gosh, that was a huge hit’” Those successful events might eventually outgrow the space, he said.

Bigger music concerts could be held at the City Hall plaza and on Green Street.

Uses mentioned include maker or science fairs, art shows and sales, concerts by local dance groups, improv comedy, small music concerts, an ethnic festival, fashion or food shows by local merchants, a craft beer festival, and a farmer’s market.

About 40 representatives of groups interested in using the space attended the meeting, said John Wisniewski, of Hollis+Miller Architects. Hollis+Miller was selected by the city to design the plaza and renovation of the historic U.S. Post Office, which is adjacent to the plaza site.

The goal is for architects to present a proposal to the Lee’s Summit City Council in September.

The meeting included members from arts groups, Lee’s Summit Downtown Main Street Inc. the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce, the Lee’s Summit Historical Society and Officer Beth Glover, from the police department, who gave advice on making the plaza secure.

The firm’s team presented the group with photographs of festival spaces from other cities, such as Gladstone. “Stakeholders” each stuck a green or orange dot on them to indicate whether they liked or disliked the design. They talked over the advantages and drawbacks of each.

Wisniewski said a consensus was to allow for a casual, spontaneous community use of the space.

The discussion also covered practicalities, such as available parking and keeping the area clean.

“One of the things I’d not want the site to be is pet friendly, I don’t want to see another pet park downtown,” said Bill Brown. He was concerned about animal waste.

Brown, who worked to pass the bonds, also said it’s important to deliver to voters the main elements promised in the campaign, so a permanent stage should be a high priority.

A challenge for completing the plaza is a tight budget.

For example, one idea was to provide ice skating–to use the plaza year-round– but that could eat a big part of the money. An artificial surface for skating used in Grandview cost $100,000, Cox said.

Wisniewski said the architects are encouraging participants to envision the ultimate best design for possible uses at the plaza.

That plan might exceed the budget, he said, but a design for initial construction within the budget could be compatible with later phases to fulfill that vision.

The group agreed on some other principals: a relatively flat, flexible space with access from both Market and Main streets, with some landscaping but not necessarily all grass.

The group agreed it wants a permanent raised stage, probably with a cover and backdrop, with basic lighting.

That way user groups won’t have to rent and erect a platform, etc.

“We’re trying to incubate artists, we want to make it as inexpensive as possible to use the space, but have quality performances,” said Christine Bushyhead, the other campaign chairman, who was chair of the Cultural Arts Facility Task Force.

Cox said the city should provide basic lighting and storage, but stop short of supplying a full sound system or theatrical lighting. He said if the city bought those systems they’d likely soon be out of date, technologically, and the city would need to operate the system to protect its investment.

He said, however, that the stage should be more than “a dining fly we picked up at the hardware store.”

A second meeting to get closer to a specific layout is scheduled for 4-8 p.m. Aug. 29 at City Hall.

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