City managers are not supposed to be visionaries. They usually make the trains run on time. Don Pipes was a visionary.
City managers do not often get a room at a convention center named after them. Donald Pipes has a room dedicated to him at the Overland Park Convention Center. He deserves it, because he pushed for the construction of such a center for more than a decade.
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City managers rarely spend 33 years in a particular city. Don Pipes was totally dedicated to Overland Park for that incredible span.
I could go on and on about this extraordinary man who died recently at the age of 84.
Don asked me never to report his age in the newspaper. Even when he retired in 1999, he made a special call to me, asking me not to print his age. This time I had no choice. Media throughout Kansas City were reporting it.
Don also asked me to never quote him. He didn’t want any attention on himself. So, in the 33 years he was Overland Park’s city manager, his name rarely appeared and was almost never quoted in any newspaper, television or radio station.
This is a man with whom I had breakfast every month for many, many years with a small group of mutual friends. He was notably quiet and reserved, but when he did speak, it was meaningful.
However, behind the scenes, Don Pipes was heard loud and clear.
Quietly, Don nudged city councilmen and mayors to share his dream of expansion. At the time he became Overland Park’s first city manager in 1963, the city’s southern boundary was about Interstate 435, and most of the city’s land was vacant. It was a small, rural community.
Don urged annexation. And then he urged more. And then more. He wanted to go as far south as possible, and eventually Overland Park did annex all the way out to about 203rd Street. This dynamic growth — a tripling of size — probably would never have occurred were it not for Don Pipes.
Annexation was not the only testimonial to his vision.
He was instrumental in negotiating the entire Sprint headquarters project. Sprint had offers from all over the country to locate. Don was adamant that Sprint come to Overland Park. He was key to making the deal happen.
Nordstrom would probably not be in Overland Park were it not for Don Pipes. He negotiated the special tax abatements that lured Nordstrom to locate in Overland Park at Oak Park Mall. Some believe without Nordstrom, Oak Park Mall might be nowhere as successful as it is today.
There is a long list of projects that have Don’s fingerprints all over them.
But perhaps Don’s greatest achievement was in exhibiting the professionalism that served as a template for other city managers, particularly in Johnson County.
He surrounded himself with a brilliant staff, who oversaw the expert planning and infrastructure projects that would make Overland Park not only large, but impressive in its quality of growth.
As was said at his funeral, the legacy of Don Pipes is Overland Park.