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Opinion: Center city predictions for new year

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The first decade of the 21st century is finally closed out. The fireworks and anticipation of the new millennium gave way to a weary “we survived” by the end of 2010.

Given a healthy dose of skepticism from two years of tight budgets and scant financing, what can Center City expect in the New Year? Here are my 11 predictions for 2011.

1. City is friendlier to business development.
Deputy City Manager Fred Marty is working closely with the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, the Springfield Contractors Association, the Home Builders Association of Greater Springfield, developers and city staff to re-emphasize a pro-business philosophy. Policies and procedures will be streamlined whenever possible to allow the city to be more welcoming and competitive for new investment.

2. No excuses for the unfit.
For those looking to work off holiday calories, the downtown YMCA has four floors of aerobic equipment and classes for young and old. By the end of 2011, Missouri State students will have a new University Recreation Center.

3. Gillioz and Guaranty move forward.
The Gillioz Theatre has a rich history of drama – on its stage and with its finances. The unfortunate foreclosure that Guaranty Bank initiated in December will be resolved in the spirit of compromise and the greater civic good. The bank will have a large note off its books, and the Gillioz will be able to raise its curtain without a suffocating $3.5 million debt.  

4. New beats mean safer streets.
Chief Paul Williams and the Springfield Police Department are in the final stages of redistricting its beats. Plans include two squads of officers for center city (from Commercial Street to the north, National Avenue to the east, Grand Avenue to the south and Kansas Expressway to the west). The result will be more than a dozen additional officers specifically recruited and trained in problem solving and building community partnerships.

5. Expo site is in the spotlight.
Hunden Strategic Partners will analyze the vacant area between the Expo Center and Jordan Valley Car Park. They will make recommendations on the highest and best use of the site and offer input on how to enhance the underperforming Expo Center. They will study the current market demand for hotel rooms, the different options for franchises and the financial viability of potential uses.

6. Drury invests in C-Street.
Founded as a bridge between Springfield and North Springfield in 1873, Drury University is once again reaching out to the Commercial Street area. It is looking at several options, including loft apartments for upperclassmen, offices for the Edward Jones Entrepreneurship Center, classrooms, and art galleries and studios. The Panthers will be making the six-block trek to historic C-Street by the year’s end.

7. Alternative transportation turns the corner.
City Utilities will identify a site for its bus transfer station in the first quarter of 2011, injecting $4 million into the local economy, enhancing bus service on several levels and making public transportation more attractive to the general public. The Partnership for Sustainability will promote the CU Ridership Benefit program to major employers.

8. Walnut Street’s missing link.
Pedestrians will experience the longest stretch of renovated urban streetscapes – from National Avenue to Market Street – when the city completes the section from Hammons Parkway to Kimbrough Avenue in the fall.     

9. Medical services expand.
Although Springfield is a regional hub for health care, there is a lack of medical services (general practitioners, dentists, optometrists, etc.) for loft dwellers. Look for providers to build on the momentum of the Bistro Market by searching for new office locations.

10. Heer’s all boarded up.
The city will hire contractors to board the Heer’s building in January. Pressure will mount on Blue Urban to find investors or negotiate the building’s sale..

11. Celebrate in the square.
Renovation of Park Central Square finishes in time for the holidays in 2011. Shoppers and Christmas Parade patrons will see Lawrence Halprin’s design modernized with improved accessibility, twice as many trees, additional lighting and security cameras.

Prospects for center city in 2011 are the most encouraging since 2008. Steady and sustainable will be the new watchwords for urban redevelopment in the post-Great Recession era.

Rusty Worley, executive director of Urban Districts Alliance, can be reached at rusty@itsalldowntown.com.
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