This time one year ago, Downtown Lee’s Summit — like all business districts in the city — was in the middle of a hard lockdown due to the rapid spread of COVID-19.
Retail shops were closed to walk-in customers. Restaurants were doing maybe 20-30 percent of their pre-COVID business through carryout orders.
The usual bustle and busyness of the business district was brought to a low hum.
But even as to-go booze and “I’ll meet you at the door for pickup” retail sales became the norm, Downtown Lee’s Summit’s CID tax (the 1-penny Community Improvement District tax) remained healthy, racking up tens of thousands of dollars a month.
From July 2020 through this past February, total taxable sales in downtown Lee’s Summit totaled $31.1 million, which is up 4.7 percent from the prior year.
Shocked? I am. Kind of.
While downtown businesses surely suffered losses during the course of the last 12 months, specialized shopping events like Small Business Saturday and various open houses have been a boon to retail locations. And restaurants and bars, too, have steadily seen customers pouring back through the doors for the breakfast, lunch, dinner, craft beer, cool cocktails and coffee they have been missing.
All of these establishments (well, the vast majority) played by the health department rules and limited occupancy and seating while finding creative ways to bring in additional revenue.
The penny tax has been on the books since 2015 and the tally for the downtown CID is well over $1 million at this point. Early projections had the fund earning possibly up to $15,000 a month. Now, it isn’t unusual for the CID to bank $25,000, $30,000 or more a month, with contributions from massive purchases at Owen Lumber all the way down to that $3 happy-hour well vodka and soda.
From the first year of collection through June 2020, taxable sales have grown more than 47 percent in downtown Lee’s Summit. There are a myriad of factors to this success, the most obvious of which is that there are just simply more places to shop, eat and drink today than there were six years ago.
The CID funds are distributed by a board that is independent of both Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street and its board of directors. In the past year, this board has approved CID funds to assist with the Sculpture Walk, the purchase of a piece of art from that project to remain permanent, public art projects like “We Are Lee’s Summit,” the gift card program and the popular LOVE LOCAL holiday gift card promotion and the visible and unique holiday lighting display at City Hall Plaza organized by LSR7 robotics teams.
COVID-19 pain most certainly trickled down to individual owners and employees. That was inevitable. Industry workers likely made less last year and part-time employees in our downtown — a number that is easily in the hundreds — lost hours and wages.
What these numbers show, however, is that when it was time to spend some money, everyone from downtown loyalists to first-time visitors, took that call to heart.
And they did so for the heart of Lee’s Summit.
I would encourage everyone with a stake in downtown to think about future projects — art, music, restoration, alleyways, beautification or in any number of ways — when applying for CID funds.
Keeping money downtown is what ensures we still work downtown, live downtown and showcase what makes our downtown the envy of so many in Missouri.