By Pete Dulin
Investment, renovation, and new businesses continue to invigorate Main Street’s economic growth in Downtown Belton.
Broken Hatchet Brewing, 422 Main St., opened in May of 2021 after buying and renovating the former location of the Cass County Public Library’s Belton branch. Belton native Cara Steele and husband Brad Steele were drawn to the 4,800 square-foot downtown space when it became available.
The Steeles sought a downtown location to reinforce strong ties to the community. Cara taught in the Belton School District for 31 years. “The city has been awesome to work with to find real estate here,” says Brad, a long-time homebrewer turned professional brewer.
The city amended an existing ordinance so that the Steeles could open the brewery. The ordinance was a holdover from Prohibition, when many communities prohibited the manufacture, sale, and distribution of locally-produced alcohol.
Notably, Prohibition activist Carrie Nation, who once wielded a hatchet to demolish saloons, is buried in Belton and provided inspiration for the brewery’s name.
Despite the anti-alcohol stance of yesteryear, contemporary residents and the Chamber of Commerce have welcomed Broken Hatchet as an economic catalyst. “The support we received from the chamber and Main Street businesses has been wonderful,” says Brad. “Everybody wants us to succeed. We think Main Street is going to build up fast. We’re happy to see Lueck’s coming.”
Lueck’s Barbecue and General Store, now located at 506 Main St. in Grandview, plans to move operations in spring of 2022 to Downtown Belton. Owner Casey Lueck purchased the former Bank of Belton building, 324 Main St., built in 1884, and is currently remodeling the brick structure. Lueck’s current location will remain open and continue to offer barbecue to go and catering until the new spot is ready to open.
“I was born and raised in Belton. I had been looking for a location there,” Lueck says. He learned about the availability of the bank property and bought the 2,800 square-foot space. “Main Street has lots of foot traffic. Business owners are putting money into it. It’s making a turn and becoming a destination. It has an old-school Main Street feel that we want to be part of.”
The bank houses three vaults. Two vaults on the main floor will be transformed into a general store. Guests will also be able to order drinks at a full bar. Dining will be available outdoors and downstairs. Once relocated, Lueck’s will offer barbecue to-go, dine-in, and for catering which accounts for 50 percent of its business.
Belton Chamber of Commerce board member and events chair Michelle Mellinger owns Main Street Performing Arts Center, 410 Main St.. She bought her first building in 2015 and later acquired two more properties with one undergoing renovation. “If you have a building to rent, there’s lots of interest from people wanting to open a business on Main Street,” says Mellinger.
Mellinger also bought a home in the downtown district. Mellinger says, “I grew up here. Main Street means a lot to me. Our businesses are run by people from here. We want to make Main Street amazing.”
Diane Huckshorn, executive director of the Belton Chamber of Commerce, works closely with City of Belton economic development director Carolyn Yatsook, chamber members, and entrepreneurs to help spur community investment. Huckshorn lists numerous examples of business owners who are part of Main Street’s grassroots economic surge.
“There are three main blocks of businesses. Each block has major development that has spread to the entire district,” says Huckshorn.
The Tearoom, 501 Main St., celebrating over 30 years in business, recently renovated their building. The Wild Poppy, 425 Main St., opened its boutique in 2021 and is renovating their building. Fred Yonker of financial advisor firm Edward Jones, 417 Main St., spent $60,000 on building renovation. Transportation Management Services recently purchased and is renovating a building at 402 Main St..
The Chamber has worked closely with existing and prospective new businesses to connect entrepreneurs with local investors and real estate opportunities. Huckshorn pointed Lueck to the former Bank of Belton building and connected him with local investor Mike Stegner.
“Mike owns multiple buildings downtown. He’s a huge Chamber supporter,” says Huckshorn. “This deal [for Casey Lueck] happened because of an investor who is also invested in our community.”
Stegner owns a building at 319 Main St. that houses The Healthy Hub, a health-oriented drink shop, and wellness practitioner KC Wellness Project. Investors like Stegner with capital not only acquire and renovate buildings as needed, but they also create accessible retail, service, and restaurant space for small business owners in a prime location.
Development planning is also occurring on a larger scale.
“The City of Belton created an Old Town Belton Redevelopment Area to incentivize property owners to make substantial improvements to the exterior of their structures,” says Yatsook. “Most of the buildings in Old Town were constructed between 1870 and 1930 and many need some love.”
The Old Town Belton Redevelopment Plan is a financial incentive that grants real estate property tax abatement in exchange for substantial property improvements, according to a flyer describing the plan. The goal of the redevelopment board’s plan is “to spur economic vitality through an incentive to elevate the appearance of residential and commercial structures in Old Town. Approved projects are eligible for 90-percent real property tax abatement for up to 15 years or actual cost of improvements.”
Yatsook says, “This plan is going to dramatically change the image of Old Town while retaining its historic charm.”
The redevelopment area consists of 422 parcels designated for commercial and residential use. The board has already approved multiple applications for residential and commercial redevelopment with more to come.
Outside of downtown, the Belton Planning Commission approved a final development plan in August of 2021 for the addition of a Dutch Bros. Coffee drive-through. The $1.2 million drive-through operation will be located at 1733 E. North Ave, the site of the former Sheridan’s Frozen Custard building, near the southwest corner of I-49 and 58 Highways. According to Yatsook, Dutch Bros. anticipates the 950 square-foot drive-through being operational in spring of 2022. “We are thrilled that they are going to raze a building that has sat vacant for over a decade and that they have chosen Belton as the first location in the Kansas City market,” Yatsook says.
Regarding Belton’s growth and redevelopment, Mellinger says, “We’re on the brink of something big.”
“It’s our time to shine,” adds Huckshorn. “We’re not a sleepy town. We’re moving forward at a fast pace.”