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Randall Whitman and Mary Lilly Smith are leading the city's 20-year comprehensive plan, which includes a Jordan Creek development along Water Street.
SBJ photo by McKenzie Robinson
Randall Whitman and Mary Lilly Smith are leading the city's 20-year comprehensive plan, which includes a Jordan Creek development along Water Street.

Dreaming Up Development: City takes next step in Forward SGF

Posted online

After a three-month public pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, city officials have begun crafting a vision for the next 20 years in Springfield.

The next steps of the yearslong Forward SGF planning process were announced at a July 7 City Council luncheon. Springfield Planning and Development Director Mary Lilly Smith outlined areas where the city and consulting agencies will focus development attention over the next year, as well as several spots around Springfield where site-specific plans will be crafted. Small focus groups of local experts are set to meet later this month.

Springfield Principal Planner Randall Whitman said following the communitywide engagement and research phases of Forward SGF, the city elected to expand its contract with Chicago-based consulting firm Houseal Lavigne Associates by $49,000 to nearly $707,000, which includes a Parks & Recreation Master Plan update. Details will be released later this month. The city will invest between $40,000 to $50,000 on a second consultant, Denver-based Progressive Urban Management Associates President Brad Segal, to craft a cohesive vision and strategy for Commercial Street.

Smith said citywide plans would be drafted in the fall.

Catalyst sites
In the downtown area, three locations were identified as catalyst sites to visualize what development in Springfield could look like in the next 20 years. Smith said Houseal Lavigne will craft site-specific plans, which the city will use as a template for additional sites.

“We’re going to watch Houseal Lavigne and we’re going to figure out how they do it and what the thought process is,” she said. “We’re not above stealing really good ideas.”

First up is Jordan Creek, where development has long been a topic of discussion. The area identified runs west from Boonville Avenue to Main Avenue and south from Mill Street to Water Street. Except for the Hotel of Terror at 334 N. Main Ave., all property in the Jordan Creek development area is owned by the city, City Utilities of Springfield and Missouri State University.

City officials recently took the first step to daylight the creek by issuing a request for qualifications from engineering and architecture firms. Smith said the plan would address the development potential and how it should interact with Jordan Creek.

“Some people were interested in it all being big, expansive green and open space,” Smith said. “Other people were like, ‘It has to be five stories tall and dense but with outdoor patios.’”

The second catalyst site is at Jubilee Park, which Smith noted is not actually a park but a right of way. The space runs between Jefferson Avenue and the Discovery Center. The space was once Jewell Theater, which was home to the nationally telecast “Ozark Jubilee.”

“In my mind it’s one of the last great redevelopment sites in downtown Springfield,” Smith said.

The third catalyst site is along Grand Street from Grant Avenue to Kansas Expressway.

“Vision 20/20 talked about creating parkways throughout the community. At the time, some of our focus group members took a field trip to St. Joseph and looked at parkways … they went to Kansas City and looked at Ward Parkway,” she said. “I don’t think we succeeded.”

She said while the city had purchased land to create a buffer between the neighborhoods along Grand Street, Houseal Lavigne will now develop a parkway concept from that green space to create more appeal for pedestrians.

Areas of focus
Smith said the consulting agency also would create plans for three expansive areas in the city: the East Trafficway and North Glenstone corridors and Lake Springfield.

Smith said these are likely candidates for development and investment that are either publicly controlled or have multiple owners.

“We want to be something that’s transferable,” she said. “We don’t want to do a design for a single property owner.”

During the council luncheon, council members Abe McGull and Phyllis Ferguson questioned the choice to focus on Glenstone Avenue, pointing to the West Chestnut Expressway corridor coming from the Springfield-Branson National Airport into the city as a critical area for development.

Smith later said the North Glenstone corridor was appealing to address through Forward SGF because of private investment that already has been made by Oasis Hotel & Convention Center and O’Reilly Hospitality Management LLC.

“There’s a ton of commercial corridors throughout the community that are not very attractive,” Smith said. “I’ve always been a proponent of public investment coming alongside private rather than trying to lead the way.”

That value connects to the East Trafficway corridor, as well, as Smith noted millions of dollars of public and private investments have been made to nearby downtown and MSU, but Trafficway is marked with warehouse and industrial buildings.

At Lake Springfield, where the James River Power Station is being decommissioned, Smith said there are opportunities for development along the nearby bodies of water.

Center city plan
In Vision 20/20, which launched in 2000, Smith said downtown and Commercial Street were lumped into one comprehensive plan. In Forward SGF, city officials are separating the two districts and adding a third emphasis to the Boonville Avenue corridor. That’s where Segal of Progressive Urban Management steps in to handle planning for Commercial Street.

“Right now, there are three organizations for that small area – a merchants association, Commercial Club and Commercial Street CID – and sometimes the roles are kind of blurred,” Smith said. “One of (Segal’s) real core levels of expertise is in organizational assessment.”

Segal was previously contracted by the city in the 1990s to establish a downtown community improvement district and the Urban Districts Alliance. Smith said now he’ll develop a cohesive vision for the historic six-block C-Street, which is known for its diversity in retail and restaurant offerings.

The plan for downtown development will focus on creating more engagement between the city and the district, looping in large development projects like IDEA Commons and West Meadows.

“Every vibrant community has a healthy downtown,” Smith said. “If your core of your community is not growing and sustainable and vibrant, then there is a problem throughout your community.”

Downtown Springfield Association Executive Director Rusty Worley said a westward expansion of Jordan Valley Park, known as West Meadows, is on track to begin construction in early fall.

The project was set to receive $460,000 in funding this year through the one-eighth-cent transportation sales tax and a grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

Worley said the IDEA Commons project through MSU and the daylighting of Jordan Creek are other critical projects to downtown development.

“The last six months has really changed how the world views work,” he said. “Having exceptional options for community spaces near work is going to help strengthen those and make those a drawing card.”

The final area of emphasis in center city is the Boonville corridor, where Smith said work would focus on connecting with the organizations who own land on the street to determine their plans to expand or contract along the road. She said Tim Rosenbury, the city’s director of quality of place initiatives, is taking up the project to determine how the city could use Boonville to link downtown to C-Street.

Pandemic challenges
While COVID-19 has dealt an expansive blow to the economic and public health of the country, Principal Planner Whitman said the impact on Forward SGF is unclear.

“Are we going to let the last five months impact the next 20 years going forward?” he said. “Or two years down the road we take a second look at the virus and its impact on community growth?”

Whitman said issues surrounding transportation, shopping habits and a shift to working from home all impact planning. But while those trends may be seen in other cities, that may not translate to Springfield.

Smith said although the pandemic changed the timeline, officials are still pressing forward with future planning, which is now set to wrap in summer 2021.

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