Lenexa’s Chili Challenge is coming back and other takeaways from this year’s State of the City address

Lenexa Chili Challenge

Lenexa is planning to bring back the Chili Challenge this fall. Above, an archived image of the Chili Challenge from a few years ago. Meanwhile, despite the global pandemic, the city saw all-time record highs in commercial and residential development. Photo credit Bill Harrison. File photo.

New development and construction in Lenexa hit record highs in 2020, despite the economic shutdowns caused by a global pandemic, according to a recap of the city’s achievements and challenges in 2020. Another positive item of interest to many Lenexans: the city is bringing back its annual Chili Challenge in 2021.

While Lenexa’s yearly State of the City address usually happens during an in-person event, this year the city released a video instead, to accommodate ongoing pandemic restrictions on mass gatherings.

Here are three big takeaways from the city’s recap:

Record-breaking parks participation despite pandemic

Like cities nationwide, operations in Lenexa changed dramatically during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, city staff still managed to re-open — with safety precautions — the Indian Trails Aquatic Center, the Lenexa Rec Center, the Lenexa Farmers Market and the Lenexa Public Market.

Logan Wagler, director of parks and recreation, said the city also had record-breaking participation in soccer and basketball leagues.

“We’re glad to see residents rediscover our outdoor spaces and embrace our extensive park and trail system in extraordinary numbers,” Wagler said.

Meanwhile, city staff maintained essential services, despite the shutdown.

“I’m very proud about how our staff adapted to the pandemic and the new circumstances,” said Mayor Mike Boehm. “We don’t get to go home. We are deemed essential services across the board, whether that’s police and fire, our parks service, the legal, communications, planning and development, administration. All departments continue to do their jobs, it’s just in a new way.”

Historic high in residential, commercial development

Lenexa saw high levels of development and construction investment in 2020.

In fact, Scott McCullough, community development director, said the city hit historic highs with total construction permits valuing more than $450 million, the second highest in the city’s history. The city also reached all-time records for both residential and commercial development.

Lenexa also completed Ridgeview Road on a site once considered impossible to develop because of underground mines.

Lenexa is also embarking on new environmental initiatives and accepted Climate Action KC’s Climate Action Playbook and Lenexa also helped negotiate discounts for residential curbside composting.

City Manager Beccy Yocham said that by the end of 2020, the city replaced 98% of its streetlights with LED fixtures, and signed onto Evergy’s renewables direct program, which allows the city to purchase renewable energy for city facilities.

However, the city paused some large-scale projects. Progress is at a standstill for both a new public safety complex at Prairie Star Parkway and Britton Street, as well as renovation and expansion of the Lenexa Community Center in Old Town.

“Those are things we need, but they didn’t have to be this minute so we paused,” Boehm said. “I think with the vaccine now with us, hopefully our communities and our residents, our nation, will accept that vaccine and we will be able to put the pandemic behind us during 2021.”

In-person events coming back in 2021 (including the Chili Challenge)

With everyone’s health and safety in mind, the “City of Festivals” (as Lenexa calls itself) is planning to bring back the Chili Challenge on Oct. 8-9 in Old Town. The city canceled the challenge last year due to the pandemic.

“We’re so excited to come together later this year to enjoy the many events and activities that make Lenexa a wonderful place to live and work,” said Angel Whitaker, a city employee.

Lenexa is also planning to offer the following events this year:

  • Live music and parties on the patio of the Lenexa Public Market
  • Job fairs
  • In-person tours of city fire stations
  • Coffee with a Cop
  • Birthday parties and other private events at the Lenexa Rec Center