Shawnee approves allowing public dollars to assist McLain’s bakery and restaurant investment downtown

OK Garage is located at 5833 Nieman Road in downtown Shawnee.

Shawnee city leaders and residents voiced overwhelming support for a project that would allow public funds to help Kansas City company McLain’s Market open a location downtown.

The Hirleman family, the owners of McLain’s Market, are in a contract to purchase the former site of OK Garage at 5833 Nieman Road and turn it into a bakery, coffee shop, restaurant and bar, with drive-thru service.

The Hirlemans plan to invest at least $2.1 million to purchase and renovate the site. The development agreement approved by council on Monday allows financial assistance in the form of reimbursements for the project, totaling $325,000, from the city’s Economic Development Fund and on an as-needed basis.

Mike Kemmling
Shawnee Councilmember Mike Kemmling voted against the development agreement which would allow city dollars to assist in McLain’s private investment downtown.

The Shawnee council voted 7-1 to approve the development agreement with McLain’s Market Bakery and Coffee Shop. Councilmember Mike Kemmling voted in dissent.

Although Kemmling voiced his support for McLain’s occupying the former site of OK Garage and noted that the company is making “a large investment” to the site which has been vacant for a while, “philosophically” he took issue with “the city subsidizing a business plan that wouldn’t work on its own.”

“I don’t feel that that’s the role of government,” Kemmling said.

Other councilmembers voiced their support for the project. Councilmember Stephanie Meyer said she thinks having McLain’s downtown is a “great project for the site” and “the perfect and appropriate use of the economic development fund.”

“We looked at that site awhile ago and the council decided that it shouldn’t be a garage, that it should be repurposed, so we’ve made it a little more challenging for folks to come in,” Meyer added, citing the need to remediate the site because of environmental issues from its days as a garage.

Shawnee Councilmember Eric Jenkins said he supports the project, although he also shares Kemmling’s concerns with public dollars being used for private projects.

Councilmember Eric Jenkins also had concerns with the city giving public dollars to private investment, but he also wants to see the site get used, especially for “a quality project” to become “trendy, cool place.”

“We would so much like to see Nieman Road back in operation; we have invested quite a bit of money in all this, and it’s time to get some of the fruits of our labor, and that means getting some quality businesses into Shawnee, into the Nieman corridor,” Jenkins said. “We need to jumpstart it a little bit.”

Primary funding for the economic development fund is generated from the Impact Fee on the operation and maintenance of the sanitary landfill in Shawnee.

“One of the other things that we hear a lot is that the residents want destination places, and from what I’m hearing of how far people currently travel to the other McLain’s just to go to McLain’s, that’s going to be bringing people of equal distance to Shawnee, traveling here and spending their money here,” said Mayor Michelle Distler. “I think this fits in really nicely with what we’re wanting to do in downtown.”

Carol Mundy
Shawnee resident Carol Mundy countered her fellow citizens’ concerns with parking, citing her support for the McLain’s project downtown.

Other residents said they’re concerned that the site doesn’t have adequate parking. The McLain’s owners plan to purchase and demolish the Downtown Shawnee Car Wash at 11004 W. 59th provide additional parking spots.

“I think parking should be the least of our worries, considering that we’re looking for really nice businesses that are run by local folks,” said Carol Mundy, countering her fellow residents’ concerns about traffic and parking around the site.

Shawnee resident David Morris, who said he lives near downtown and the proposed site of McLain’s, said part of him is ecstatic for the project, but he also cited concerns for his waistline. He wanted to encourage Jenkins and Kemmling to vote in support of using public dollars for the project, noting the additional costs to remediate the site in addressing environmental issues.