Ladders have always garnered my upmost respect. As someone prone to bouts of clumsiness, an “oops” can quickly lead to a bloody mess.

In much the same way, center city developers have exercised a healthy dose of caution during the past 15 years of historic tax credits by sticking primarily to the low-hanging fruit. Virtually all the small to midsize buildings have been renovated into commercial storefronts, offices and lofts.

Some of the major projects yet to be restored include:
  • Heer’s (140,000 square feet);
  • Woodruff and McDaniel buildings (115,000 square feet total); and
  • Arbor Motel and surrounding vacant parcels (three acres).
Much like painting my tall Victorian house, such undertakings require reinforcements – especially in this risk-averse climate. Staying out of the emergency room is a priority for the wise and underinsured.

Safety in numbers
The farther off the ground, the more important it is to have spotters to hold the ladder and scaffolding steady. The developers for these projects will need quality investors, lenders, contractors, tenants, economic development professionals and elected officials throughout the process. Recruiting and retaining that diverse group of experts is a logistical feat in itself.

Large projects have a significant ripple effect on their neighbors, physically and psychologically. As such, they should be viewed as investments to remove blight, reduce crime and enhance pride in the entire area. To paraphrase Hillary Clinton, it takes a village to renovate a Heer’s.

Specialized tools
The trusty old 6-foot ladder obviously isn’t going to work anymore. What new tools can the craftsmen wield? The Springfield Finance and Development Corp. has 50 percent tax credits available for up to $1 million in new stock purchases. The additional capital for SFDC could be invested in some of these key community projects.

The Missouri Development Finance Board is authorized to grant a tax credit equal to 50 percent of monies contributed by any taxpayer through the Tax Credit for Contribution Program. A contribution can be made to “infrastructure facilities,” which includes acquisition and improvements of blighted real estate, demolition of existing structures, and preparation of sites in anticipation of development.

Large projects are also potentially eligible for the more standard set of incentives such as tax abatement, tax increment financing and community improvement districts.

Compelling vision
The additional hands and new tools won’t arrive until a compelling vision is formulated and articulated.

The developers must be perceived as capable of orchestrating deals of that magnitude.
Next, they need to be able to create a unique selling proposition that sets the projects apart.

For example, former Missouri State University President Michael Nietzel branded IDEA Commons – designed to bring together innovation, design, entrepreneurship and the arts – as the broader home of the Jordan Valley Innovation Center to entice public and private mixed-use development to the urban research park. The efforts have yielded the Taylor-Martin group of companies, Marlin advertising firm, the Boonville Lofts and the corporate offices of Andy’s Frozen Custard.

In the fall, crews are set to begin renovating the former Willow Brook Foods plant into the Robert W. Plaster Center for Free Enterprise and Business Development, a nearly $8 million project by MSU to serve as a business incubator and educational resource.

One person on a rickety ladder won’t be able to reap the next level of fruits alone. Working together, the entire Springfield community can taste the desserts of our major center city projects.

Rusty Worley, executive director of Urban Districts Alliance, can be reached at rusty@itsalldowntown.com.