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Mary Lilly Smith: City need economic-development counsel in complex bond plan.
Mary Lilly Smith: City need economic-development counsel in complex bond plan.

City Beat: Council lays groundwork for Kraft bonds

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The city of Springfield is another step closer to securing over 100 Kraft Foods manufacturing jobs paying on average $48,000 a year.

Springfield City Council approved two measures Jan. 25 allowing Kraft to pay the city’s legal fees to create an industrial-revenue bond plan that could generate an estimated 109 new jobs to Kraft’s Springfield plant, 2035 E. Bennett St.

Kraft Heinz Co. (Nasdaq: KHC) spokesman Michael Mullen said Springfield had not yet been selected for the project that would utilize up to $36 million in bonds issued by the city. The multibillion-dollar company plans to ramp up production of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and Kraft Singles. Mullen also declined to name other cities in the running for the additional manufacturing lines, adding no timeline for selection has been established.

At the recent meeting, council members also passed a resolution stating its intention to consider issuing those bonds – the second of three steps should Kraft decide to add eight production lines in the Queen City and develop an incentive plan for the project.

Springfield Planning and Development Director Mary Lilly Smith said the bills allow the city to hire Kansas City-based Gilmore & Bell PC as its economic-development counsel in the complex bond-plan process.

“Nothing is final until we bring you the industrial-development plan and the ordinance to issue the bonds,” Smith told council during the meeting. “It is a competitive project. They have not made the decision yet that it would be located in the plant, but we are encouraged that they wanted to move forward with this resolution at this meeting and think that it bodes well for us.”

Councilwoman Kristi Fulnecky emphasized the manufacturing industry’s significance in Springfield.

“We compete nationally and even internationally for manufacturing jobs, and I know some states like Texas give money to companies that locate there,” she said. “I thank Kraft for considering expanding their product lines here.”

Zoning moves
Mercy Springfield Communities was on council’s rezoning docket, and the hospital system received four approvals. In all, council passed an annexation and six rezoning measures.

Just one of the seven proposals drew comments at the meeting, as well as a vote of opposition: the rezoning of 10.6 acres at 3410 S. Campbell Ave. and 202 E. Walnut Lawn St., where Youngblood Auto Group seeks to expand east and build a garage at the site of a former Mercy fitness center.

Council voted to suspend the rules on public comment and heard concerns about the zoning change from two neighbors before voting 8-1 in favor of the move to a highway-commercial district with a conditional overlay from a planned development.

Ken Roetto, a former insurance professional living in the area, said with over 10 acres being rezoned, he fears other businesses could buy portions of the land, or all of it later, and expose neighbors to more traffic.

“What we’re fighting is that we have an unknown highway-commercial proposal. We don’t know what (you are) voting on,” he said.  

One of three speakers, Derek Lee of Lee Engineering Inc. representing Youngblood Auto, said the rezoning likely wouldn’t increase the traffic burden.

“The existing zoning allows a very high traffic use right now,” Lee said. “The comment keeps being made, ‘highway commercial,’ but it’s a very restrictive highway commercial. There’s a relatively small amount of retail and restaurant that could be put in.”

The planned development allowed the 120,000-square-foot fitness center to be built on the property. Under the approved zoning change, 14,000 square feet of retail is permitted, half of which could be for a restaurant. The conditional overlay also requires a 25-foot buffer yard to the east with a four-foot tall barrier.

Before the vote, Springfield Public Works Director Dan Smith told council once funds become available the city intends to improve the Walnut Lawn and Campbell Avenue intersection with right turn lanes northbound on Campbell.

Mike Schilling cast the opposing vote.

Other approved rezoning measures include a Mercy property at 216 E. Walnut Lawn, which changed 0.9 acres to an office district from a residential townhouse district. It’s one of three properties Mercy is seeking to sell, including 3.3 acres at 1329 E. Lark St., which is between National and Fremont avenues, south of Republic Road. That property’s zoning was changed Jan. 25 to a general retail district from a planned development. Mercy also had a 12-acre rezoning approved that includes its rehabilitation hospital at U.S. Highway 65 and Evans Road. That move followed the city’s annexation of the property last year.

Council approved two other zoning proposals and an annexation: 4 acres at 1300-1332 E. Republic Road to highway commercial from the same 30-year-old planned development that included Mercy’s East Lark property; 5.5 acres at 1209 E. Holiday St. to general retail from an office district; and 2 acres of private property at 4229 S. Scenic Ave. now inside city limits.

Geoffrey Butler of Butler, Rosenbury & Partners Inc., who represented the South Scenic property owner at the Jan. 11 public hearing, said after that meeting there were no plans beyond listing it for sale.


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