Missouri Main Street Connection: AARP Community Resiliency Project Overview
January 28, 2022 | Logan Breer
Missouri Main Street Connection Inc. (MMSC) partnered with AARP Missouri in awarding $5,000 to five selected communities including Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street, Dutchtown Main Streets, Independence Square Association, Uptown Jackson Revitalization Organization, and Clinton Main Street to make their resiliency projects, meant to inspire change and improve communities for all ages, a reality. As a result of the completion of these projects, each community has activated spaces in their communities, met the changes in evolving business climates, and bettered their downtowns while celebrating and encouraging inclusivity.
Independence Square Association – Liberty Lounge
The beginning of 2021 saw the completion of Independence Square Association’s Liberty Lounge with 400 volunteer hours being contributed by volunteers on this project. They made a place that provided social distancing while being an outdoor venue to gather. Their project included painted outdoor games for adults, painted activity zones for kids, picnic areas, seating, and a raised platform for live music. Former bank teller boxes were repurposed for catering of food and drink and as pop-up shop locations. QR scans were created to pull up menus from area restaurants and hand sanitizing stations to keep hands clean as social distancing occurs. They also created a mural that is gaining a lot of attention in their community!
Since the Liberty Lounge’s inaugural event, which included a performance by the Kansas City Symphony, –with the Kansas City Symphony returning in the spring for another free conference— the Liberty Lounge provided the space for the fourth annual Square Table, an evening to celebrate the historic downtown and raise money for continuing revitalization and beautification efforts in downtown Independence. It allowed for the outdoor performance of “A Selection of Shorts” and “Broadway Under the Stars” by the City Theatre of Independence.
Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street – 816 Building
In March of 2021, Downtown Lee’s Summit completed the latest evolution of their alley activation project that has been ongoing since they moved their office space to the alley in the fall of 2015. This once overlooked and neglected part of the downtown infrastructure is now equipped with public art and building improvements to more easily facilitate events and gatherings on nights and weekends for the office and their neighbors in the alley. Donnie Rodgers Executive Director of Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street said, “The overall impact has already been much greater than we envisioned. This project was a shot of optimism during a time when there wasn’t a lot of visible progress or improvements happening due to COVID-19.”
The alley activation project created a safer space for the public to gather for both small events and informal interactions. The project included:
- the creation of an operable and artistic gate to allow for closure on nights and weekends to vehicular traffic;
- the addition of new public art, specifically, a neon “816” constructed from reclaimed signage, creating a new photo opportunity that represents the community’s area code;
- festival lighting to make the alley more inviting and safer in the evenings;
- additional planters were installed as modular barricades and added additional greenery; and
- a community-painted alley asphalt mural which created a fun environment and has helped aid in slowing down daytime traffic, by alerting divers that they have arrived in pedestrian shared space. The mural incorporated visuals to help patrons visualize how much 6 feet of space is to encourage safe, social distancing.
The success of this project has “already inspired possible future alley enhancements across downtown to help make for safer public events for all,” says Donnie Rodgers. Downtown Lee’s Summit has continued plans to utilize the potential of this space as “a pop-up event space.”
Dutchtown Main Streets – Neighborhood Innovation Center
April 2021 saw the completion of Downtown Dutchtown’s transformation project of the Neighborhood Innovation Center parking lot into a multi-functional outdoor event space for families and businesses. This project included 150 volunteer hours and had additional donations from local vendors. The multi-functional transformation consisted of colorful sun sail shades that are easy to take down and put up, an outdoor event zone for hosting movie nights and supporting social distancing, an outdoor market zone that would be easy for merchants to setup and breakdown, and a communication information zone.
This space will continue to support the needs of multigenerational families and neighborhood businesses, which it did not previously support. All Downtown Dutchtown’s businesses, non-profit organizations, and families can utilize and participate in the new outdoor event and market spaces.
Clinton Main Street – JC Smith Park
In June 2021 the improvements to the JC Smith Park made by Clinton Main Street through their JC Smith Park Community Project were completed with over 115 volunteer hours. The JC Smith Park is a largely concrete area with benches, tables, a swing, sun shades, and two entry gates. Clinton Main Street implemented the community visitors’ vision in making this park more useful and accessible to the community and local businesses as well as made it more spatially ideal for social distancing. Since the addition of the sun shades that provided covered seating, lighting for evening events, and low planters which replaced sections of the fencing, more visitors have been able to move more easily in and out of the park. A sanitization station was also added which allows visitors around the Square a space where they can rest and sanitize.
When asked if the project had an impact on the district, Tina Williams, Executive Director of Clinton Main Street said, “It was how we envisioned! Already we are seeing an uptick in people using the park and feeling it is a welcoming space.”
JC Smith Park has already seen use in the celebration of Olde Glory Days and the Quilt Walk in downtown Clinton.
Uptown Jackson Revitalization Organization – Roaming Parklet
The end of 2021 saw the debut of Uptown Jackson Revitalization Organization’s (UJRO) ‘Roaming Parklet’ during the 2021 Christmas Parade in Jackson, Missouri. This project was unveiled to the community after months of dedicated volunteer work and coordination by UJRO with vendors and suppliers to complete their project. Developed off the grant winning rendering from Craig Milde, Design Committee chair and architect with Design + Advise, UJRO built a custom “Roaming Parklet’ from a tiny home frame that is lower to the street surface to allow fewer steps to climb and a shorter accessibility ramp. Furnishings including seating, bar top tables, and umbrella coverings when necessary to allow the ‘Roaming Parklet’ to be configured in different set ups according to the need of the business or special event. COVID-19 has made ordering tricky over the past year leading to several delays; however, UJRO continued to press on with the project and wait until all the pieces were ready for the project’s completion.
Activating streets has been vital in many communities across America as changing business requirements during the pandemic required more space for shoppers and diners. To address these requirements, many communities allowed restaurants and businesses to expand into the streets, utilizing would-be parking spaces as new shared spaces that served as extensions of their businesses to form parklets and outdoor seating. This is great for communities that have the infrastructure to allow for these measures to not impede or restrict streets and sidewalk spaces in facilitating drivers and foot traffic. For the Uptown Jackson area, this presented its own challenges as community and merchant concerns grew about the idea of permanent parklets. Therefore, UJRO developed this ‘Roaming Parklet’ that would rotate and park at all Uptown businesses allowing them shared access to this self-contained, mobile “parklet” providing the same amenities for each use at each business driving publicity and foot traffic. Not only will this ‘Roaming Parklet’ be utilized for special event space and pop-up markets, it also is planned to expand existing businesses’ storefronts and retail space for years to come.
This is a big win for the uptown district and businesses as this will allow UJRO to inspire further revitalization and activation through the ‘Roaming Parklet’ by testing areas in the district for further enhancement and aligning UJRO’s anticipated comprehensive landscape plan in lieu of the routine builds and removal of semi-permanent parklets.
These projects were completed by communities in 2021 and have become inclusive spaces for their communities where people can come together safely and enjoy their community. These projects demonstrated the importance of looking at spaces in our historic downtowns through the Main Street Approach™ using each of the four points (organization, economic development, design, and promotion) to strategically think of answers to the concerns and needs of the community. Each community created more than just another event space as they created multi-use spaces that provide places to gather together safely and contribute to the “stickiness” of their downtown to keep people in the district longer. These projects also serve as facilities for small businesses and entrepreneurs to use to get their business started, test new markets through pop-up shops, and spaces that can display, feature, and celebrate the culture and arts found within the district. Missouri Main Street Connection is looking forward to what else happens at these great, activated spaces for years to come.