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Opinion: 4 downtown real estate trends to watch in 2020

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New funding for greenways, major shifts in housing and expanding numbers of hotel rooms promise to make 2020 an intriguing year for downtown real estate.

Here are four trends to watch.

1. Grant Avenue Parkway. The recent announcement of the $21 million federal funding for the Grant Avenue Parkway between Bass Pro Shops and downtown will be a catalyst to increase economic development and encourage the community to be more active. It will feature Springfield’s first smart trail with free Wi-Fi along its 3.3-mile route.

It has the potential to be Springfield’s version of transit-oriented development with hundreds of homes and businesses within a half-mile walk of the new trail. It will offer multimodal resources for walking, biking and public transit. Springfield should leverage this momentum with incentives to attract private investment and enjoyable density.

The parkway will be a high-profile new concept for retail anchors. In the past, shopping malls have courted major department stores to be their cornerstones. Shoppers in the 21st century are looking for more authenticity. It is a transformational new model.

2. Jordan Creek magnet. City Council was presented with an update on the daylighting of Jordan Creek on Nov. 19. The project was part of the level property tax vote that voters approved in 2017. The first phase will consist of a three-block stretch from Boonville to Main. Planned amenities along the new waterfront include a greenway trail, seating and infrastructure for community events.

The attraction to water has been well documented in downtown revitalization efforts. Springfield’s version promises to fuel continued growth of the IDEA Commons through Missouri State University’s innovation park, Jordan Valley Community Health Center and private office development – led by Vecino Group’s planned 100,000-square-foot project in IDEA Commons.

3. New hotels; more overnights. Hotel Vandivort opened its second tower and rooftop bar in October. It is a shining tribute to John, Karen and Billy McQueary’s commitment to leaving their fingerprints on downtown’s renaissance and our community’s willingness to pay a higher daily rate for quality. Bryan Magers’ new Tru Hotel by Hilton just opened, and it’s a manifestation of the bridge between downtown and the MSU campus. And O’Reilly Hospitality is scheduled to start construction early in 2020 on the former Great Southern Bank building at South Avenue and Pershing Street for a new Moxy by Marriott. It will cater to young visitors enjoying downtown’s nightlife.

These are three very different target demographics. However, the overnight guests these hotels bring are a critical next step in the maturation of downtown development.

4. Housing realignment. This year witnessed the opening of the 328-bed student housing project at Walnut Avenue and Jefferson Street. It was the latest initiative in the escalating totals of 800 lofts and nearly 3,000 student housing beds added downtown in the last 20 years. More are on the way with council’s approval of incentives for the 550-bed project at the former Arbor Motel site on St. Louis Street and a $10 million project for 65 microunits at the Baptist Student Union.

This additional supply is occurring while enrollment at local universities is expected to remain flat at best due to the demographics of upcoming high school graduating classes and the strong economy.

Another local housing component is the hundreds of single-family houses formerly owned by 417 Rentals LLC that have been auctioned off or sold by banks since its bankruptcy in early 2019. The most redeemable structures will be remodeled, and many others will be demolished. It will be an opportunity to cull some of Springfield’s worst-maintained properties.

The effect of all those significant changes will be a significant shift in Springfield’s market for housing.

College students will have ample options for quality housing without having to buy or rent bungalows in Phelps Grove, West Central or Midtown. Those single-family properties can be reclaimed for young professionals currently living downtown and ready to take the next step in their housing needs.

The challenge will be to make sure Springfield’s center city neighborhoods have the amenities young couples are looking for in their first homes. This could include move-in ready properties with new appliances, open floorplans, nice backyards for pets, quality schools for those wanting to have kids, safety and security. If done correctly, Springfield can deliver on those core expectations at a cost less than similar new 3-bedroom, 2-bath starter homes in suburbia – which are often over $200,000.

State historic tax credits completely changed downtown development across Missouri 20 years ago. Springfield must find new incentives to build on that success.

It is an exciting time for real estate. Lace up your walking shoes, venture out to Hotel Vandivort to toast the sunset on the rooftop and find a way to be a part of shaping the next chapter in the rich history of downtown.

Rusty Worley, executive director of Downtown Springfield Association, can be reached at rusty@itsalldowntown.com.

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