City of Shawnee

2021 State of the City

state of the city 2021 pic

Shawnee State of the City

2020 was one for the books. But not in the way we usually mean when we say that. The normal hustle and bustle of our everyday lives was replaced by this. 
Empty parking lots, quiet hallways, masks making it difficult to share a smile… Signs telling people to stay apart when what most of us needed was a close connection.
A full-on pandemic. One that hit hard, dealing a big blow to our businesses, to our homes, to our friends and to our families. 

Through it all, the City of Shawnee stepped up. We buckled down and figured it out. And you know what? We made it. We banded together as a community and we got through it. This is not to say we won’t face more tough times in the future. We will. But we are now in 2021. And it’s time We Rise Together.

I’m Mayor Michelle Distler and I’m honored to say this is my sixth State of the City as Mayor of Shawnee. And I’m beyond excited to be standing inside of the historic Aztec Theatre. It has been painstakingly and lovingly restored and is now open for the first time in more than 40 years. Seeing the marquee lit up at night in our downtown is like a beacon of hope for our community. It signals promise and revitalization as Shawnee flourishes into the future while also keeping a commitment to honor our history. I want to thank the Aztec owners, Jeffrey Calkins, Christopher Calkins and Bruce Young, for letting us take the stage here. 

The Aztec originally opened back in 1927 when Marion A. Summerour was Mayor. He was only our City’s third Mayor. Now, as our 23rd Mayor, I have the honor of standing on this stage as the Aztec once again becomes a destination for our community. It’s a shining example of how we can all rise together.

I also want to thank the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce for once again hosting this year’s State of the City. It looks a little different than what we normally do, but the strong partnership between the Chamber and the City has never wavered, even through these uncertain times. And in case you haven’t heard, the U.S. Chamber awarded the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce with a five star accreditation. That makes them one of only two five star accredited chambers in the entire state of Kansas and in the top two percent of chambers in the entire United States. It’s a well-deserved award and we are lucky to have such a strong chamber to work with in our community. And if you are at all familiar with our Chamber, then you know Chief Operating Officer Mary Taylor. I want to thank Mary for her dedication and commitment to Shawnee for the past 16 years. Mary is getting ready to enjoy retirement and we are so grateful for her time spent moving our community forward. 

I also want to quickly take a moment to recognize your Shawnee City Councilmembers. Matt Zimmerman and Tammy Thomas from Ward 1. Dr. Mike Kemmling and Eric Jenkins from Ward 2. Lisa Larson-Bunnell and Kurt Knappen from Ward 3. And Lindsey Constance and Jill Chalfie from Ward 4. We all appreciate your ongoing commitment and work as a Governing Body this year and every year.

2020 was a challenging year. It was also a year where we witnessed true innovation that helped Shawnee rise and move forward. We have more examples from the City than I have time to list but I would like to highlight a few. Our employees moved quickly to adjust when the stay-at-home order kicked in. Much of our staff transitioned to working from home. All the while, creativity sparked as staff started moving more and more services online or over the phone. City meetings went fully virtual. Our Municipal Court also moved online as well, and they will continue to offer Virtual Court as an option in the future. 

We had to make tough but necessary decisions about our beloved community events including cancelling Old Shawnee Days and keeping our popular outdoor pools closed. While those were tough pills to swallow, our staff focused on what we could do, not what we couldn’t do. Our Parks and Recreation employees produced videos to help give local families ideas of fun things to do at home while at the same time, coming up with new events that allowed for safe social distancing, like drive-in movies and walk and read events. Shawnee Town 1929 staff brought history to life when they worked to make a virtual museum tour that people can explore from the comfort of their own home. And our Police Department gained quite a following from parents and kids as they started doing daily storytimes on Facebook Live.

Even more innovation arose, including when firefighter Chris Pagano had an idea to use a 3D printer to create a part that allowed our first responders to get more use out of respirator filters when personal protective equipment was in low supply.

Like I mentioned, these are only a few examples of how 2020 sparked innovation in Shawnee. It was evident nearly everywhere, from City staff to our business community. There was a real call to action to support our small businesses and our residents responded. You all made a commitment to do what you could to help keep the doors open at our businesses. Whether it was ordering takeout from your favorite Shawnee restaurant, doing curbside pickup at a local boutique or swinging by to grab to-go beers from one of our breweries… you made choices to stay local and it shows. The City also worked to help where we could. As always, we were in constant contact with the Chamber to share information about small business grants and we even created the Shawnee Economic Recovery Assistance, or SERA, grant program. Eighteen local businesses were able to use this program to help cover rent or mortgage as they worked to make ends meet. The recipients included a range of businesses including Fun Services, that has been in Shawnee for years, to newer locations like OrangeTheory fitness.

We also continued to back our businesses with several Shawnee Entrepreneurial and Economic Development, or SEED, agreements which are paving the way for improvements at several popular spots including here at McLain’s on Nieman Road near Johnson Drive. This has quickly become the place to go to grab a bite to eat, have a coffee date with friends or indulge in a sweet treat.  
SEED agreements are helping more popular places as we work to rise together, including Old Shawnee Pizza, Drastic Measures and of course the beautiful Aztec Theater I’m standing in right now. These boosts are also helping transform the former Hartman Hardware building into yet another downtown destination.

Projects are popping up all over Shawnee, including here at 43rd and K-7, where you can see the new Heartland Logistics Park taking shape behind me. This is a prime example of how collaboration between the City, County and State can bring real change to an area. When this nearly 200 acre project is finished up, it is expected to bring in up to 2,000 jobs. It’s a big project providing a big boost for all of Shawnee and is yet another example of how we can rise together.

It may be hard to believe that even in the middle of a pandemic, more than 120 new business licenses were granted in 2020. More than two dozen projects launched in Shawnee last year, totaling nearly $133 million in construction. Several big City projects are included in that. Nieman Now wrapped up, Pflumm Road was revamped with new mill and overlay, curbs and sidewalks, updated streetlights, storm drains and more improvements to make this a better stretch of road for our residents. Looking forward, work is already underway on Monticello Road south of Shawnee Mission Parkway. We’re Re-Imagining 75th Street as we continue to focus on projects that will benefit our community as a whole.

I can’t say enough about our Community Development and Public Works Departments and how they work tirelessly to improve Shawnee from the ground up… and many times, from underground up! Our City Council has set Stormwater as a high priority as we all understand that solid and reliable infrastructure is the firm foundation we must have. We’ve set aside money in the budget and approved funding to repair or replace nearly 16 thousand feet of stormwater pipe throughout the City. The streets and sidewalks you and I use every day also rise to the top of the list. In 2020, nearly 50 miles of street got a fresh new finish. And all of our walkers and runners out there are enjoying 15,000 new feet of sidewalk. 

While we had unseasonably warmer temperatures late into 2020, as you likely already know, our Public Works Department is top notch when it comes to clearing snow and ice from our streets. It brings me such a sense of pride every year as I see our plow drivers braving the wintry weather to make sure folks like you and I can get where we need to go safely and on time. And in yet another example of how we rise together, staff from several different departments, including Parks and Rec and police, join in to help tackle these tricky conditions. Our entire community is so thankful for this teamwork.

To say 2020 was a tough year for our Parks and Recreation Department employees is an understatement. These staff members live and breathe for our community events and programs. Most of the cancellations and closings dealt a direct blow to what they take pride in doing every single day. As I mentioned earlier, this pandemic sparked quite a bit of creativity within them. From “how to” videos that engaged people on social media to rethinking how they could offer any sort of programs or classes, our Parks and Rec employees really stepped up to the so-called pandemic plate. A new Parks and Recreation Master Plan was finished up, laying the groundwork for exciting new projects and changes in the future. Perhaps the shining jewel of the year is Wilder Bluff Park. The new 45 acre park near 55th and Belmont Drive will be opening this Spring and will feature a splash pad, new trails, a unique treetop canopy play structure, park shelter, outdoor fireplace and more. We are all so excited to spend time in our newest park when it opens this Spring.

We saw big changes in our Public Safety leadership, with new Chiefs taking the helm. Both Chief Sam Larson and Chief Rick Potter have taken on incredible challenges as they take steps to keep our first responders safe through this pandemic. Their dedication and commitment to our community and to keeping Shawnee safe is beyond measure. I want to personally thank all of our first responders for the sacrifices you all make for us every day.

Chief Larson has been leading the Police Department through a year when things like mental health have become even more of a priority as we all deal with the challenges of 2020. Our Police Department launched a program with Johnson County Mental Health that enables every officer to attend a two-day training course focused on mental health and an additional one-day de-escalation training course. Every single employee in the Police Department will complete that training this year. The Police Department also pledged to take part in the One Mind Campaign that offers even more mental health training for all officers. And it’s even more evident of the importance of having our mental health co-responder embedded in the Police Department. We were overjoyed to have the opportunity to team up with the Shawnee Secret Santa again to hand out thousands of dollars to our community. Our officers also had the chance to shop with some local kids to make sure their holidays were as bright as could be.

The Fire Department also has some big things happening. They flexed and adapted to the pandemic as well, maintaining the priority of keeping our first responders safe. Our firefighters look forward to Fire Prevention Week every year, mainly because they get to spend a lot of time in our local schools, teaching kids about fire safety. Since that wasn’t an option this year, they worked hard to create a great video that was shown online in schools and in homes. Most fire inspections went virtual. And our Emergency Services Chief became a local and regional resource of information as we all worked together to track changes with COVID cases, testing and more. Because public safety is always a top priority in our community, the Governing Body approved nearly $15 million dollars to upgrade our Fire Headquarters and also Station 73. These are very much needed and will provide an extra layer of improvements, protection and technology for our community and our firefighters who live and work in these stations every day.
I am so proud that Shawnee continued to rise in 2020 and rack up a list of accomplishments despite the constant challenges. Here are just a few of those accolades.

  • The Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund raised more than $18,000 in a year that was difficult for most to choose to give. This money went directly to both Shawnee Community Services and Mercy and Truth Medical Missions.
  • The City of Shawnee once again landed on the Kansas City Business Journal’s Healthiest Employer list.
  • Our Finance Department received the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award and a Triple A Bond Rating… all while navigating an extremely finicky financial year and implementing a new finance system.
  • We were ranked a Most Budget –Friendly City for renters.
  • The Center for Digital Government recognized Shawnee as a Digital Cities Survey winner for our work in Information Technology
  • Our Fire Department achieved the ISO Class 1 rating in 2020, which translates to lower insurance rates for some of our businesses and residents.
  • The Social Media Club of Kansas City AMP award went to our Communications Department for our Shawnee Spotlight feature we do on the City’s Instagram account. It’s an inside look into the lives of our employees who work hard for our community every single day.
  • Our Parks and Rec Department received the Kansas Recreation and Parks Association’s Innovative Program Award for KidsFest.

While all of these are things to celebrate, none of these could happen without all of our staff and our many volunteers. When we talk about rising together, you all are the most important piece of that operation. We have so many success stories from our Neighbors Helping Neighbors volunteer program. Our residents who are willing to give time and effort to help make a neighbor’s life just a little bit easier… they are true examples of how we all should be. We also have lots of other volunteers who help out with our Adopt-A-Spots, serve as bluebird stewards, do tireless work with our Faith Community partnership and serve on our Boards and Commissions. All of these people prove how rising together can make our entire community better now and in the future.

At the last State of the City, I talked a lot about Imagine Shawnee and our vision for the future. That is now guiding a rewrite of our Comprehensive Plan with Achieve Shawnee. This is where we’ll need YOUR help as we develop a new comprehensive plan for the community. The current comprehensive plan was originally adopted in 1987, so it is time to update and look forward to the future. If you're wondering what a comprehensive plan is, it's kind of like this: Would you like to see more breweries booming in downtown Shawnee? How about more housing options to welcome everyone from young professionals to families to seniors? Or maybe something completely different? That's what we want to know! At its core, a comprehensive plan is a vision for the future at a community scale. Comprehensive plans are created by and for the community to record shared goals and desires for themselves and their fellow community members. A comprehensive plan examines what a community is, where it came from, and crafts a coordinated road map for the future. This road map guides the growth and development of the community for the next 10 to 20 years, and is revisited to ensure its relevance. As a first step to receive community input, the Comprehensive Plan website is packed with information at achieve Shawnee dot com. That’s where we’ll be posting information about opportunities for YOU to let us know us know what you think. As always, knowing what YOU think is extremely important to us, so we hope you’ll work with us to revamp our Comprehensive Plan that will navigate what kind of development happens in certain areas of our City. I truly hope each and every one of you will stay engaged with us so you can have a hand as we work to Achieve Shawnee.

Lastly, I want to thank all of you for your support of the Governing Body, staff and the City as a whole. We are all working towards the same goal of making Shawnee what you want it to be. There is so much to take into account as each decision is made. But I can promise we will continue to preserve and honor Shawnee’s history while also embracing change and innovation in the future. With your help, we will Rise Together in 2021 and beyond.