By Dennis Minich
Last week a pair of students from the University of Missouri came to town to learn about Del Dunmire. They were doing a report on economic development and they wanted to know about Dunmire’s actions while he was working and living in Harrisonville.
I am not really sure what their report was about. I am not even sure if they
were journalism students, or engineering students or urban planning students, I was simply told they wanted to talk to people about Dunmire.
They wanted to know everything: the good, the bad, the eccentricities, the know-how, the tenacity and the weaknesses. So those of us who talked to them regaled them with some “good old Del stories.”
As we wound the patch of nearly 30 years of Harrisonville history, there was one fact which was inescapable from everyone: those wanting to restore the Harrisonville square owe a great deal of gratitude to Del Dunmire and Growth Industries.
I know his antics gave severe indigestion to former mayors and city officials. Dealing with bureaucracy was not one of his strong suits; but for every antic, every temper tantrum and every window he boarded up on the square, there remains one truth: those buildings likely would not be standing today without the work and money he put into them.
We know several businesses are moving to the square. It is exciting and we can’t wait for more to open. But there would be no Galvez, Youngers, Artisan’s Corner, Crown Realty, Brickhouse or Beck Event Space if not for Dunmire.
The current owners receive many kudos for their efforts, and every business brings the square one more step back to life. But every award, every kudo and every job-well-done should be shared with Dunmire, because he did so much of the heavy lifting. Had he not bought and restored so many of the buildings, they simply wouldn’t be here today.
All were old, most were in terrible shape and long neglected. Many would have taken the same path as the Lee Theater, which he purchased too late. While trying to restore the old movie house, a snowstorm simply weighed it down. How many other buildings were near that same kind of fate?
So now we have buildings and an organization, Love the Square, which is working to revitalize the historic square. Town squares seem to fall into one of three categories: they are dying, they are being torn down and replaced with cookie-cutter ugly mixed development apartments or they are being restored and brought back to life.
Love the Square is now working the Missouri Mainstreet Coalition to come up with short, medium and long- range plans to pump life into the center of town. When the group held an organizational meeting last winter, one of
the cities they used as a role model was Excelsior Springs.
Finding myself north of the river a few days ago, I decided to visit that city and see what revitalization looks like. I had never been there before so I
had few preconceptions.
Excelsior Springs obviously has some strong points few cities can match, namely the Elms Hotel and the history of the mineral springs. The layout of the city is much different as it is not as much a square as it is a few city blocks intertwined.
But in terms of buildings and age, it appeared to be very similar. I think that area is still relatively early in its redevelopment but you could see the plan. There were a variety of restaurants, bars, specialty shops and attractions to keep your interest. One interesting thing, when you told someone at any shop you were from out of town, they asked what you were interested in and recommended places to go, even though it may have been their competition.
Discovering some shops closed, other proprietors would tell what they sold and when they were open, seemingly as if they owned a share of the business. In some aspects they do. Whatever draws people to the area is good for all businesses, so there is much to be gained by enticing visitors to come back.
The one stop I had planned was the Dubious Claims Brewhouse, which was
one of the featured beer makers at the Harrisonville Area Chamber of Commerce beer tasting back in March. The beer was again very good and from listening to the crowd, folks came from many places, not just Excelsior Springs to try out a brew.
Taking a peek at Excelsior Springs, I now have a perspective on Harrisonville. The potential is very much here. I think defining the direction of the restoration is a top priority. Finding some excited ten-
ants comes next and finally good, small-town friendliness will go a long
Restoring the square is not a new idea. There was a guy talking about it 30 years ago. Thanks to Del’s dreams and his labors, that reality might be fulfilled.