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PURPOSE-DRIVEN: Mat Burton says The Vecino Group is under contract to buy property in IDEA Commons.
PURPOSE-DRIVEN: Mat Burton says The Vecino Group is under contract to buy property in IDEA Commons.

City seeks plans for new IDEA Commons development

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IDEA Commons, a designated area of 88 acres in downtown Springfield, is the product of imagination by Missouri State University and city officials. With over $130 million invested in the development, the 10-year-old district has three components in the areas of innovation, design, entrepreneurship and the arts: the Jordan Valley Innovation Center, The eFactory and Brick City.

Now, the university, Springfield Business Development Corp., The Vecino Group and the city of Springfield are working through new ideas for a fourth addition at the southeast corner of Boonville Avenue and Phelps Street. City Council members and the media were briefed on the new interest July 7 at JVIC.

“IDEA Commons was very much ahead of its time when it started,” said Mat Burton, Vecino Group’s president of public-private partnerships. “And our hope is to keep this area flourishing by attracting new jobs and investment to downtown Springfield.”

Officials say $130,000 is budgeted to measure the development’s feasibility – with $32,500 funded by both the university and SBDC, the economic development arm of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. Vecino Group is covering the balance.

IDEA Commons accommodates over 1,000 employees and students daily, MSU President Clif Smart said. The entire planned area, also home to Brick City businesses The Marlin Co. and Obelisk Home, is bounded by Chestnut Expressway to the north, Water Street to the south, Campbell Avenue to the west and the Jordan Creek to the east.

Development ideas on the table include additional research labs and office space for JVIC, real estate options for business startups at The eFactory and retail or community space. Additionally, new development downtown could help in recruiting information technology companies that are actively researching the Springfield market, said Ryan Mooney, senior vice president of economic development at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

MSU owns a majority of the 2-acre potential development site, while Vecino Group is under contract to purchase the rest of the property. Currently home to Touche nightclub at 414 Boonville Ave., Greene County assessor records list the property owner as the Jackie C. Ballew Trust and the taxable appraised value at $237,900.

“If the project is successful, it’s going to require the relocation of those businesses,” Burton said, declining to disclose the agreed upon purchase price.

Stated goals for development are the creation of high-quality jobs and reinvestment in center city. Officials also talked about providing a sense of unity between the IDEA Commons buildings.

“We’re on board,” Mayor Ken McClure said. “We’ll help any way we can.”

Discussions also covered city participation to evaluate potentially opening up the nearby floodplain created by Jordan Valley Creek.

“Currently it’s covered up by buildings, roads and greenspace throughout the downtown area,” said Suzanne Shaw, MSU’s marketing and communications director.

She estimated uncovering the creek would cost roughly $1.5 million and noted it could be funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

MSU recently added a master’s degree in computer science to its curriculum, and Smart said further development of IDEA Commons to attract talent-intensive companies could convince students pursuing such degrees to stay in Springfield.

“All these kids want to be where the action is,” Councilwoman Jan Fisk added, noting the district could have been an abandoned wasteland. “This is a game-changer. This makes us attractive.”

During the council luncheon when the plans were revealed, Springfield Planning & Development Director Mary Lilly Smith said conversations regarding the redevelopment project for IDEA Commons began around Thanksgiving.

Now in the due diligence phase, led by Vecino Group, Shaw said it’s expected to wrap up in three to four months.

“When the phase is completed, they will present their findings which will include different options, costs [and] mock-ups,” she said. “At that point, a decision may be made by Missouri State and other stakeholders regarding the viability of the options presented.”

Vecino Group calls itself a “purpose-driven development company,” providing affordable and student housing. Developments include the Park Central East urban neighborhood comprising Sky Eleven, The U and The Sterling, as well as Highland Ridge subdivision in Nixa.

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