You’ve been with the city since 1996 and you’re now serving as acting director since Mary Lilly Smith’s retirement. What are the plans for hiring for this position and do you plan to apply?
They haven’t posted the position, but I believe they will be doing a national search. Until that happens, I can’t say a whole lot. I am looking at it. I’m really interested in what the position will be when it does post. That position is very important in the fact that it does set the community up for the long-term growth of the city.
The city has several development plans in the works, including Forward SGF. What are the latest updates with that?
This is a once in every 20-year plan. We anticipate that as we begin to move out of the pandemic, we’ll be wrapping that up and hopefully this fall we’ll have something to really show the community. The downtown plan is really the key item that we’re working on. We’re working with a group of stakeholders to vision for downtown. What do they want to see downtown look like, what are the opportunities that are there? The business community is the one that is driving that. We’ve had one preliminary workshop and have really worked with them to identify those items. Walkability is big, especially downtown, any type of pedestrian-scale development is what has been noted as desired.
Downtown development also is impacted by the Renew Jordan Creek and Grant Avenue Parkway projects. What specific opportunities have you identified there?
Renew Jordan Creek at its simplest is a stormwater project to reduce flooding. However, we have an opportunity there to really expand on that. It will tie into the vision of downtown. It’ll have a lot of those pedestrian-scale activities with trails and places to stop and sit, and water integrated into the natural landscape. That also ties into the Grant Avenue project, which is really a once in a lifetime project that could reshape that part of the city because it’s not every day you receive a $21 million grant from the federal government. It’s [asking] what type of development can we leverage adjacent to that parkway. It really could become an area like you see in other cities that has those urban-style developments.
What are other development opportunities?
A lot of our opportunities are redevelopment of existing property and we’re seeing some of that across the community. But some of the areas that we’ve identified in the plan are north Glenstone Avenue, we call them catalyst sites. That’s an area right there adjacent to I-44, because that has the largest concentration of hotel rooms in the city. We have a lot of visitors that come to that area to stay overnight. So really looking at that, once again, creating that more pedestrian scale, allowing people to walk, so they don’t have to get onto Glenstone to go to a restaurant. Lake Springfield is another one that’s really exciting because you do have the (City Utilities) coal plant down there that has been taken offline. That’s a huge development opportunity. What that could be, we don’t know, but I think having that in conjunction with the green space that we have at Lake Springfield and the existing trails, I think you could see some development spur out of that area. Lastly, that Chestnut corridor out to the airport. It’s a key corridor for visitors, their first glimpse of the city. What can we do to encourage quality development out there?
In Galloway Village, a project by Elevation Development has stirred up a lot of public feedback and City Council debate over two-plus years. Does this project discourage private developers? What other obstacles do they face?
Anytime you have a transition area and an area that’s very desirable, like Galloway, you’ll run into some of those conflicts. We do see that from time to time, but one of the things that will come out of the plan is creating a new zoning ordinance. Our zoning ordinance is 20 years old. That will (bring) a little bit of assistance in those types of issues. Right now, when you look at the actual construction piece, there’s a labor shortage. That’s slowing projects down. The other piece is redevelopment. That’s really where I think we’re going to be focusing a lot of our attention because we don’t have a lot of extra vacant land to develop. You’ve seen some of the older shopping centers, they put on a new front. I think you’ll see more of that. One observation that I think you can see is that we’re starting to see vertical development.
Brendan Griesemer can be reached at email@example.com.
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