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Gradual Progression: Republic officials balance multiple large-scale projects as population rises

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Republic city officials say it’s an active time for municipal projects – particularly with the Parks and Recreation Department on the verge of ending one development this year with two more in various stages of progress.

The city is in the final months of a $7.4 million expansion for the newly rebranded The Rush Republic Aquatic Park. Additionally, the department is tackling Phase I of a multimillion-dollar development of a farmers market and community event space at J.R. Martin Park and soon plans to solicit construction bids for a roughly $40 million outdoor athletic complex on 136 acres south of James River Freeway.

Those are in addition to several mixed-use developments under construction by the private sector and a high level of interest in single-family home building, said Andrew Nelson, one of the city’s two assistant city administrators.

“In 2023, we issued a record number for us of single-family house permits,” he said, noting the 255 permits smashed the previous high of 210 issued in 2022.

Republic’s population reached 19,728 in 2022, a 3.1% increase from a year prior and over 5% up from 2020, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data.

“We’re somewhere around $165 million in projects that the team is overseeing,” City Administrator David Cameron said, adding $150 million is connected to a multiyear expansion of Republic’s wastewater system.

Cameron said that expansion, which includes $50 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding and a $45 million bond issue, began construction last year with plans to complete work by 2026.

“That will take care of the sewer capacity for the city and environmental compliance for the city for quite some time,” he said, noting the wastewater plant capacity will nearly double at the end of the project to roughly 5.7 million gallons per day.

Into the pool
A significantly different kind of water will soon be flowing at The Rush Republic Aquatic Park – formerly the Republic Aquatic Center – as the 711 E. Miller Road facility is undergoing the first expansion project in its nearly 20-year history.

Jared Keeling, assistant city administrator and parks and recreation director, said Branco Enterprises Inc. is the project’s general contractor, adding work is roughly 70% completed. The center’s footprint will double upon completion of the 3-acre expansion, which is adding a lazy river that is 575 feet long and 10 feet wide, as well as new slides, terraces to accommodate cabanas, a party space and lounging areas.

Keeling said the city worked with Revel Advertising to roll out the rebrand of the aquatic park this month, complete with a new logo and website. The Rush is set to open by Memorial Day weekend.

“We feel like it kind of went beyond what would be a normal municipal center, and teetering – if not all in – on the edge of a water park, and one to brand and advertise like that,” he said.

He said the aquatic park will have 35-40 employees, and with expected additional costs for staffing and operations, rates have been adjusted for the 2024 season. Daily admission will be $10 for Republic residents and $13 for nonresidents. Last year’s rates were $6.50 for residents and $7.50 for nonresidents.

“We believe it’ll have quite the regional draw, maybe up to a 100-mile radius. Our existing facility kind of does that already, but we really think this one will have even more potential to do that,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a lot more facility to enjoy, a lot more amenities to enjoy.”

Officials are budgeting revenue of $814,500 for The Rush this year, a 76% increase over 2023.

Park plans
Over at J.R. Martin Park, located on 24 acres at 300 E. Hines St., plans call for Phase I work to construct a pavilion and plaza area and move existing tennis courts to another city park. The project will be put out for bids in either March or April, city officials say, with construction to begin by mid-July after the city’s annual Have-A-Blast Patriotic Celebration.

“We don’t know what construction time could look like there, but we are targeting conservatively for a spring 2025 grand opening,” Keeling said, adding Phase I is budgeted for $2 million. “But if the contractors should get in and make short work out of it, we’ll be prepared to have some events out there prior to spring of 2025.”

Roughly $300,000 in ARPA funds are being used for the project, he said, adding second-phase work will include adding outdoor classroom space and replacing playground equipment.

With plans for the Republic Sports Park and Athletic Complex in mind, the city bought 136 acres of agricultural land in September 2021 for $3.2 million from the Ruth Sawyer Trust, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. The property fronts James River Freeway for almost a mile between U.S. Highway 60 and Farm Road 156.

The park is expected to be completed in two phases with the project calling for 10 baseball/softball fields, eight soccer fields, up to 12 pickleball courts, fishing piers on a human-made retention pond, a nature center, outdoor classrooms, playgrounds and walking trails, according to past reporting. Officials estimate the project to be $35 million-$40 million, with Phase I’s cost roughly $15 million. The final design phase is expected to begin this summer in advance of construction starting by late spring or early summer 2025. A grand opening is targeted for spring 2026.

“We’re going to take our time on these projects – we’re going to do them right,” Keeling said, adding the message is communicated daily to staff. “Really, these three major capital improvement projects will set the tone for the Parks department for generations to come.”

All three Parks projects are being funded by one of the city’s quarter-cent sales taxes used for capital investments. Voters in 2022 approved renewal of that tax, along with another quarter-cent sales tax that funds general park operations. Both have a new 25-year sunset, extending revenue collection to 2049.

Developments update
Beyond city projects, several other private sector mixed-use development projects are moving along, officials say.

Stone Creek Falls, a 93-acre residential and commercial development on the edge of Republic at U.S. Highway 60, is under construction. While developer Sean Coatney of Countryland Homes Inc. didn’t return phone calls seeking an update on the project, Nelson said 360 apartment units are under construction among 12 buildings. The city has yet to issue building permits for the commercial lots. Nelson said roughly 240 of the apartments are expected to receive a certificate of occupancy by the end of the year.

Over at Highway MM and Sawyer Road near the Amazon fulfillment center, the $65 million Iron Grain District mixed-use development is gradually announcing commercial tenants.

Magers Management Co. officials in August announced The Roost Bar & Grill as its first restaurant tenant. The Roost is targeting a spring opening for its restaurant, which will mark its third location, joining two others in Springfield, according to past reporting.

Shannon Handwerker, vice president of operations for Magers Management, said Eagle Stop was the first official tenant for Iron Grain, which opened last year nearby at 2804 N. Brookline Ave. She said the city recently approved infill construction drawings for another restaurant, Habaneros Mexican Cantina, which was announced in November as a new tenant. An unidentified medical provider also is coming to the development, she said.

“We anticipate a summer opening,” she said of Habaneros, though she declined to disclose lease terms.

Handwerker said the residential portion of the project is designed with more than 200 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartment units, over 20 townhomes and a pool, dog park, clubhouse and walking trails. The city has approved the building permit for the first phase of apartments, with construction expected to begin soon. Phase I will include 96 units, the clubhouse, pool and dog park.

Plans also call for a hotel on the site, which Handwerker said would be a part of a future phase.

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