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Opinion: Welcome company: Preparing for new downtown hospitality

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In a season of graduations, weddings and family get-togethers, downtown is reminded daily by construction cranes and the muddy tracts of progress that company is coming this fall.

Hotel Vandivort currently is doubling to nearly 100 guest rooms with its new tower that will open this summer. The Vantage rooftop deck will offer indoor and outdoor spaces that promise to be the most popular place to toast the sunset. The McQuearys will extend their unique blend of Springfield pride and metropolitan style in Springfield’s first downtown boutique hotel.

At the nearby corner of Elm Street and Kimbrough Avenue, Tru Hotel by Hilton is strategically placed as a bridge between downtown and the Missouri State University campus. Its 98 guest rooms will be within easy walking distance of Bryan Magers’ Bear Village to the south and downtown to the northwest. The Tru will include a 2,800-square-foot lobby for gaming, eating, lounging and a 24-hour market.

O’Reilly Hospitality Management has plans for The Moxy by Marriott in a historic building at 430 South Ave. purchased by Tim O’Reilly three years ago. It will feature 98 guest rooms at a moderate price point of $100-$120 per night, with amenities geared to the “Play On” theme: food and beverage in the lobby, a new rooftop deck and speakeasy in the lower level.     

The three developments represent over $30 million in new investment for downtown hospitality.

What will be the impact of these new projects?

For one, authenticity will expand the user base.

Two decades ago, First Friday Art Walk and the first loft apartments brought new customers to the sidewalks and vibrancy to dormant upper floors. Student housing burst on the scene 10 years ago, resulting in over 2,500 beds to make Springfield more competitive in the Midwest in higher education.

The building renovation and opening of Hotel Vandivort in 2015 broadened the base of overnight guests at University Plaza, The Q (formerly Holiday Inn Express), and Walnut Street Bed and Breakfast. They venture out to explore downtown with the deliberate goal of supporting local retail and restaurants with disposable income.

The projected growth of boutique hotel guests is poised to dramatically increase this important demographic, which is key for local retailers to compete with online and big-box stores.

Then, there’s the impact to urban density.

The new hotels will replace asphalt parking lots, older rental homes and a largely vacant historic building.  

The effect already is evident on McDaniel Street and Robberson Avenue, where the new Hotel Vandivort tower has altered the pedestrian experience with its four stories of masonry hugging the sidewalks. That development pushes traffic to the adjacent Davis Parking Garage to efficiently utilize more of its 350 spaces.  

The Tru Hotel, combined with The Vue’s 348 beds of adjacent student housing, will reinforce Walnut Street and Kimbrough as the primary walking path to MSU from downtown.

The Moxy will re-energize the south side of downtown. It will more efficiently utilize the large surface parking lot at South Avenue and Elm and bring activity to an eight-story building that has housed a limited number of tenants since Great Southern Bank’s move one block north in 2013.

The millions of dollars in planned downtown hotel projects won’t address two core issues of Springfield’s hospitality industry: convention center and youth sports expansions.  

Springfield has commissioned three versions of reports over the past decade from consultant Robert Hunden for convention center development. Our city loses more ground to our regional competitors every year we don’t invest in a true convention center. It’s time to stop kicking that can down the road.

Downtown is well-positioned as the center of education, with a government plaza and many major employers. It is walkable to a wide variety of restaurants, entertainment, local retail and great public spaces. A compelling argument has been made for downtown as the home for the convention center.

However, if the lure of Bass Pro Shops and the private resources it can bring to the table are ultimately too significant to ignore, the Expo Center could join Jordan Valley Park, nearby colleges and other potential center city redevelopment sites to be part of a system of multiuse youth sports venues. Springfield is well-known for its hospitality for high school championships, home school basketball tournaments and soccer competitions. Downtown could be an important option for expanding venues for youth sports.

Get ready. Company is coming to downtown this fall.

If the community can come together on plans for a convention center and youth sports, thousands of additional visitors could follow in the next few years.

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

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