Voter-approved downtown space will exceed original budget

ColumnistJune 9, 2017 

There’s a Hollywood-inspired saying in government work that goes something like this:

“Why build one, when you can have two at twice the price?”

In the case of the downtown performance space, we are not building two. But we are looking at a sharp increase over what voters approved. And it’s not double. It’s more like 12 times.

For the most part, fiscal responsibility has been largely adhered to in recent-memory projects like the new Lee’s Summit Historical Museum and the Legacy Park Amphitheater.

Those projects were two of many — including the completed improvements to Orchard Street and Pryor Road — that were overwhelmingly passed by voters in April of 2013.

But the last project standing — the downtown Lee’s Summit performance space — has proven to be the most arduous and challenging, for a variety of reasons.

By its nature, government work is going to be filled with bureaucracy and, unfortunately, delays. But we cannot fault that process alone for seeing a lack of progress on this important project more than four years after voters said yes. In fact, the projects mentioned above, and many others approved in bond issues in 2007 and 2010, are completed and stand as a testament to local government delivering on its promise of progress.

This one, however, is a little more slippery of a deal.

First, the land that had been originally (and loudly) pinpointed as the home of the downtown performance space — an area meant to bring more music, art and community activities to a centralized structure — was never purchased before the vote and, thus, the land deal ultimately imploded.

Hurdle No. 2 came with the approved price tag of $600,000. Many around the project wondered aloud how such a space would be completed under that budget, given the massive land price for the lot (north of a quarter-million dollars) near Third and Market streets. Couple land acquisition difficulties with early expenditures that chipped away at more than $40,000, and we began to see a long road ahead for this project.

Fast forward to Plan B (now a pavilion that includes an expanded farmers market), and things are still, seemingly, burdensome when it comes to land acquisition, now slated via ordinance for property directly across City Hall Plaza off Green Street.

In fact, City Hall officials themselves acknowledge that the new scope of the project could exceed 12 times the amount approved by voters in 2013.

We need to rip the Band-aid off that price tag and put it out for public consumption. Getting through the heartburn of a $7 million project (again, not including land acquisition) now will help us have conversations down the road on how we will fund this and to what scope and form the space will ultimately take.

As noted by city staff, the Downtown Main Street organization, along with the Community Improvement District Board, will have a lot to do with those decisions. The CID penny tax has been wildly successful over its first two years, netting more than a half million dollars.

Will the CID and DLSMS be major funders for this project and what is the “not to exceed” amount on that? The voters didn’t approve an expanded farmers market, per se, but if we are going back to the drawing board, then dreaming bigger seems to be the way to go. And if costs can be offset by CID funds and a capital campaign, we could be on the verge of planning an expansive pavilion that will surely continue to put Lee’s Summit on the regional and national map.

Councilman Rob Binney, who covers downtown Lee’s Summit, said his goal continues to be delivering to the voters an innovative and inspiring product.

“During this process, we have learned that early estimates prepared for the project and approved by voters will not get us to the desired results,” Binney said, noting that the CID and DLSMS are willing partners in helping achieve a new game plan. “With the loss of the Parks and Recreation Concert series in our downtown, and the continuing growth demand for the Farmers Market, creating an inviting, useable, functional performance space and pavilion is more important than ever.”

Binney noted there could be news soon to share on the project. That is likely going to come in the form of announcements from City Hall regarding land purchase across the street and, hopefully, some sort of firm plan from all parties on methods of funding.

There are still countless pieces of this puzzle that haven’t been connected. But one’s thing’s for sure: Lee’s Summit has the vision and the stamina to see this project through, in whatever form it ultimately takes.

Lee’s Summit resident John Beaudoin writes about city and civic issues, people and personalities around town. Reach him at johnbeaudoin4@gmail.com .

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