The Leesburg Partnership, a Florida Main Street Community, was formed on Aug. 24, 1994, and is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The original name was Leesburg Downtown Partnership. Organized by the Downtown Merchants Association, the City of Leesburg, and the Leesburg Chamber of Commerce, the organization has not only revitalized downtown Leesburg, they offer events that attract visitors from around the country.
On the 20th anniversary of the Leesburg Partnership Joe Shipes, chief executive officer, told Style magazine, “My job during the past 20 years has been to guide the stakeholders here in Leesburg through the National Main Street process. I am pretty much a behind-the-scenes person, directing, encouraging, introducing, and disseminating concepts and ideas.
In order to make a difference in the community, Leesburg Partnership set up a strategic plan with four components: outreach, promotion, economic restructuring, and design. Within two years, these four components began to produce tangible results and Leesburg was flourishing.
A slight name change to Leesburg Partnership created a larger outreach and reflected the vision the organization has to grow and prosper the community. In addition to Joe, the partnership staff includes Cat Reel, operations manager, and Joanne Smalley, Main Street manager. These three are joined by a host of volunteers, partners, and organizations that create magnificent events like April’s Leesburg Bikefest, the Mardi Gras in February, the Leesburg Fish Fry, and the Scarecrow Build-Off and Expo in October.
The Leesburg Bikefest has become the world’s largest three-day motorcycle and music event. It will be held April 24-26, 2o20. The town closes to traffic and shuttles are offered to carry visitors to events, vendors, and downtown businesses.
Well-known musicians appear on various stages while various sponsors, clubs, organizations, and businesses operate food-and-drink booths, food trucks pop up everywhere, and it’s a basically great party that begins with a rumble that continues throughout the weekend.
Another very popular event is the Leesburg Mardi Gras. The celebration opens with parties to select King Rex and Queen Divine and ends with a day-long Party in the Street. That day includes parades for kids, pets, and the huge Mardi Gras parade that starts the evening’s fun. Just like New Orleans, there are jugglers, fire eaters, stilt walkers, concerts all day, and lots of food and drink.
“We’re always learning, always adding new things, and making it better,” Joe says. “It’s a year-round process that ends in fun.”
The Leesburg Partnership also hosts monthly events like Food-Truck-N-Flick Night, fabulous Fourth of July fireworks, a Boo Bash at Halloween, a very competitive chili cook-off, and various events at Christmas. Historic Downtown Leesburg comes alive when these events are going on, and residents always come out in force to enjoy the fun and festivities.
The future is already in progress at the Leesburg Partnership with strategic planning set through 2022. The board of directors whittled their focus down to two primary transformation strategies for the next five years:
Increasing the number of workers and residents in and around the downtown area leading to an overall 24/7 presence downtown.
Assuring that Leesburg is a vibrant cultural, entertainment, and recreational center, plans are to make it a viable place to live and work. Using the agricultural/citrus heritage as a base, the partnership plans to offer authentic experiences to residents and visitors. They’ll be working toward increasing community pride and making the district a place that appeals to everyone to ventures to Leesburg.