Ecological improvements to Lake Springfield and development of recreational, cultural and natural amenities surrounding it are highlights of a proposed $1 billion master plan that will be unveiled to the public 6-8 p.m. today at the Springfield Art Museum.
“We’re trying to inspire people to invest in this area,” said Steve Prange, vice president of Crawford, Murphy & Tilly Inc., the engineering and consulting firm hired to write the plan.
He describes the planning effort as “whetting the appetite” of the private development community.
The plan for the 1,000-acre property owned by City Utilities of Springfield begins with the lake, formed in 1955 by the damming of the James River to create a cooling water source for the James River Power Plant.
Prange said about half a million cubic yards of silt has built up in the lake over nearly 70 years.
“It’s really resulted in some of those shallow areas that we hear about a lot from our community who’s out there using it – kayakers and boaters who kind of get stuck,” he said.
He said a member of his scientific team estimated the lake will be fully filled in and converted to a wetland within 20-50 years.
The plan recommends dredging portions of the lake to form a series of so-called “eco islands.” These new islands would be joined by elevated boardwalks built on piers that would be part of a 3-mile trail system. As people use the elevated trails, kayakers and canoers could glide right under, he said.
“People can kind of get out into the water and enjoy the water environment without getting into the water,” he said. “They can experience it from the trail network and the elevated boardwalk.”
The plan would also expand the boathouse at Lake Springfield Park, currently operated by the Springfield-Greene County Park Board.
“We think it needs to be two to three times bigger than what it is,” Prange said. “We understand the budgetary constraints that the Greene County Park Board is under, so this could be a private entity that comes in here and helps to manage activities in this area.”
New pavilions, playgrounds and retreat areas could also be added to the park area, he said.
Concepts for power plant
The plan is divided on what to do with the area that includes the James River Power Plant, where a substation will remain in service. There are two options: an entertainment district and an adventure hub.
The entertainment district could include an eco retreat with a sizable conference center, he said. RV camping and glamping could be included, along with retail, restaurants, riverfront recreation, an event lawn and a pavilion at the power plant site. It could also include a bike park.
The adventure hub concept capitalizes on the waterfront experience with a conference center, hospitality and restaurant amenities, Prange said.
“It’s going to be a massive development that will attract many different organizations and conferences to our area on a scale and size that we do not come close to offering,” he said.
A canopy ropes course, zipline, bike park, camping, archery and outdoor music scene are part of the adventure hub concept.
Prange said the plan provides ways for people to connect with the water.
“We do have a unique opportunity with the James to create one of the world’s largest water trails,” he said, suggesting such a trail could connect Lake Springfield with Lake Taneycomo. “It could be a huge national draw to experience something like that.”
Prange said the entire plan with the first option, the entertainment district, would cost about $1.2 billion, and the second option of the adventure hub would cost $1 billion. The financial burden would not be on taxpayers, he said, but covered by private developers. Eventually, special taxing districts or similar instruments could be employed to pay for infrastructure improvements, he said.
He added that even Lake Springfield Park could be sold to a private entity.
“When we started this planning process, we challenged all of our partners to think big and outside the box,” he said. “Everything is on the table.”
City of Springfield Director of Public Information and Civic Engagement Cora Scott said a portion of the land would likely remain a park.
“Realistically, you know, the feedback that we’re hearing is that people do want it as a public amenity, so there will most likely remain a certain area that is still very publicly funded,” she said. “There are just so many unknowns.”
The plan also envisions more access points to the James River on both sides of U.S. highways 60 and 65 to the north of the lake.
“We’re providing the public a lot of different opportunities to interact with the water and get into the water with their kayak or canoe and be able to access it a little bit easier than what they can right now,” he said.
A wetlands preservation area is pictured in the northern part of the acres, emphasizing conservation and meadow restoration, he said.
“This is part of the thousand acres that we see having a huge piece of that kind of passive recreation interwoven into it – getting our people out to enjoy this,” he said.
A cultural education center that includes resources addressing the region’s Native American heritage is also included near the northern conservation area.
The plan envisions connectivity for a now-segmented trail system, including the Chadwick Flyer Trail that connects Springfield and Ozark. The plan suggests a bridge over the lake for the trail.
Prange noted the plan is a jumping-off point for developers.
“Honestly, development will tell us what the right answer is there,” he said.
He said the plan tells developers what the community is lacking and invites them to make proposals. He expects a multiphase development for the next 10 years and beyond.
The plan alone, even before development occurs, represents a $1 million investment into an area singled out in the Forward SGF comprehensive plan as one the city should capitalize upon.
Scott said the area represents a rare opportunity for the city.
“We took in a lot of community input, especially during Forward SGF, the strategic planning process, that told us we need to be bolder and inspire vision in the community – put forward ideas and plans that will basically stir men’s souls to come up with making us a more vibrant and more exciting place,” she said.
The Lake Springfield Plan is being funded by an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, $100,000 from the Hatch Foundation, $60,000 from City Utilities and $40,000 from the city of Springfield.
Tonight’s public meeting follows two previous public engagement sessions, plus a series of meetings with stakeholder groups, beginning in October 2022.
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