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Coffee Break

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by Clarissa French

If you think downtown Springfield is dead, think again. Because if you haven't been downtown lately, you haven't been downtown at all.

Art galleries, restaurants, coffee houses, beautifully restored buildings, a lighter, brighter Park Central Square and a plethora of hoppin' night spots are just a few of the highlights.

Visitors to downtown can:

?Shop for everything from antiques and collectibles, to home furnishings, to clothing and shoes.

?Enjoy casual or fine dining, decadent desserts and great coffees.

?Take in live performances in theater, dance and music.

?Tour shops and galleries, sign up for a pottery-making class or enroll in an acting course.

But there's more to it than shopping, dining and entertainment.

?More people are living in center city's loft apartments and historic homes.

?More entrepreneurs are opening their doors downtown, adding jobs and bringing more people to the heart of the city.

?More investment is occurring in real estate, construction and renovation.

?The city of Springfield is offering more programs than ever to aid revitalization, including low-interest loans, redevelopment team inspections and plans for a new center city community improvement district.

The momentum of downtown redevelopment has been slowly increasing over the last decade. In recent years, local businesspeople have turned many of the area's historic buildings into showplaces of color, atmosphere, art, entertainment and culture.

And more is on the horizon, including a revamped Seville Hotel, continuing commercial renovation and loft apartment development, Civic Park, and John Q. Hammons' plans for an office building and a baseball stadium downtown.

Right now, downtown has the potential to explode into an "overnight success."

And, like most overnight successes, this one has only been 20 or 30 years in the making.

From the 1970s on, downtown Springfield's biggest challenge has been just to survive. Even 10 to 12 years ago, much of downtown was a dreary expanse of empty storefronts and deserted streets, brightened only by the efforts of a few gutsy business owners.

It was they who kept a pulse beating in downtown, however faintly, through decades of neglect: Visionaries and die-hards; pioneers; businesspeople. They kept the faith.

Some of those businesses didn't make it, but their presence, and their owners' sacrifices, kept the area alive and slowed its deterioration.

And it was another group of visionaries that made revitalizing center city an official priority for the community: the Vision 20/20 participants.

Vision 20/20 put our city's focus where it needed to be. Individual small-business people made sure there was something left to focus on.

With so much already done, and so many resources marshaled for further revitalization, I predict downtown will come into its own in the new millennium. And our entire community will reap the benefits.

PHOTO CAPTION:

This face is one of several that were discovered above the windows of the 311 Park Central East building during renovations.

PHOTO CAPTION:

Pat Walker, executive director of Downtown Springfield Association, works in the DSA's offices at the newly renovated 311 Park Central East.

PHOTO CAPTION:

The Springfield Business Journal building, located at 313 Park Central West, is 107 years old and was origionally a hotel for railroad workers.[[In-content Ad]]

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