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Planning under way for College Street Corridor

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In its heyday, the College Street Corridor was a key component for a bustling section of Springfield, once housing one of the city’s first homesteads and supporting Civil War Fort No. 2, and holding ties to historic Route 66.

Decades later, the corridor, an area defined as College, Olive and Walnut streets between Grant Avenue and Kansas Expressway, has deteriorated and is a hodgepodge of empty lots, few businesses and housing that has fallen into disrepair.

Vern Morgan, senior planner with the city of Springfield’s Department of Planning and Development, is leading the charge to turn the tides in the corridor – and he’s counting on the community to help.

The city launched a series of public planning meetings Jan. 18 in downtown Springfield, and those meetings will continue every two weeks through April 11.

“It’s not the city doing the plan and taking it to people to see what they think about it,” Morgan said. “We’re trying to develop this collectively with citizens. We’re equal partners in this.”

A city background and analysis report shows that public and private properties in the corridor are blighted, with 40 percent of existing structures in need of major rehabilitation or already beyond feasible repair. Several properties, including those west of Broadway on the north side of College Street, have no access to the city sewer system.

Morgan said the corridor is well-positioned for revitalization – and for creating an area attractive to investors – because of its proximity to downtown.

“It’s a part of the West Central neighborhood. It has a lot of history to it, and I just think it fits in nicely with a lot of other activities the city’s engaged in like the Jordan Valley and West Meadows Park,” Morgan said.

With a second meeting held Feb. 1, participants so far have represented a cross-section of the community, from longtime property owners on the affected streets to residents, investors, business owners and Route 66 enthusiasts. During the meetings, some attendees have been critical and blunt in their assessments of the corridor, with some calling it dilapidated and soul-less. Others, however, see potential, and have offered ideas that include upgraded street lighting, underground utility services, new sidewalks, bike lane additions and establishment of an artists’ community. Aesthetic suggestions have included water features and gateway arches.

Morgan said he’s been pleased with the tone of the meetings so far and with the public’s contributions of ideas.

“They all have merit,” Morgan said. “There’s no boundary on ideas, and there are no bad ideas.” The goal is approval of plans by Springfield Planning and Zoning Commision and City Council.

Phyllis Netzer, a West Central neighborhood resident and a Realtor with Murney Associates, said fixing the blighted spots in the area should be the city’s first priority.

“I’m concerned that the blighted area is taking away from how much businesses would want to move into the College Street Corridor,” Netzer said. “I think you have to straighten that up before you can really do anything.”

Netzer said, however, she is thrilled with the collaboration between the city’s Planning and Development Department and the community.

“I think the idea of fixing up this whole downtown is wonderful,” she said. “I get concerned when sometimes, I think people come in to the area, take their money, and leave. They don’t really love downtown. There are people who love downtown, love West Central, love College Street – and I do think when you have that passion good things can happen.”

The process for bringing about that change is still in the early stages, with the next meeting set for 6:30–8 p.m. Feb. 15 in the community room at architecture firm Butler, Rosenbury & Partners Inc., 319 N. Main Ave., where all of the meetings are being held. Once the meetings conclude in April, a plan will be put together, and corridor improvements could begin by August.

Tommy Pike, president of the Route 66 Association of Missouri, attended the Feb. 1 meeting, and is particularly curious about how the corridor project would be funded.

“Where does the money come from to do all this?” Pike said. “You’re also dealing with property owners. Some can afford to do things and some can’t.”

Morgan said funding sources for the revitalization haven’t yet been determined, and they likely won’t be until a plan is in place.

“That’s something we’ll consider once we know what the project is,” Morgan said.

One investor already has stepped forward to get involved in revitalization, said Cora Scott, the city’s director of public information and civic engagement. Scott said Mark Cockrum is purchasing the building at 1031 College St., which apparently was built to house an auto repair shop in the early 1930s. Scott said he plans to rehabilitate the building in response to the ongoing planning process.

In addition to the public meetings, those who want to weigh in on the College Street Corridor Project can join a Google forum at SpringfieldMo.gov/CollegeStreet, where there also are reports, announcements and meeting notes.[[In-content Ad]]

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