Derek Smith, aka Springfield Batman, is planning a new project called the Batpark at The Ridge at Ward Branch.
Smith said the “all-inclusive, sensory park” is slated for development on the south side of The Ridge, an estimated $500 million development by RW Developments LLC along South Campbell Avenue.
The Batpark is designed with elements for children with and without disabilities, so they can play together. It will be wheelchair accessible and have “touch and feel” elements designed for children with autism, Smith said. The 5,000-square-foot Batpark will be located in a larger, 11-acre park with trails, a creek and a wooded recreation area at The Ridge, he said.
“We don’t want any kid left behind,” said Smith, who was born half deaf and suffered chronic migraines growing up.
At the center of the park is a playground that’s themed around the Batman superhero. Through his nonprofit Project Bat, Smith dons the superhero’s outfit to meet with children at area hospitals and events. The organization also delivers so-called Batpacks with coloring books, crayons and toys.
Smith said the park also is designed with houses for actual bats.
“Bats can eat their own weight in bugs overnight,” Smith said, noting the houses would help keep insects away from the rest of The Ridge and serve as a learning opportunity for children.
Phil Williams, co-developer of The Ridge who’s also principal of the NAI Enterprise LLC brokerage, said the playground designed by Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Play & Park Structures would allow children with and without special needs to play together in the same area. Other playgrounds, he said, typically create separate areas.
“They’ve always been treated as special,” said Williams, whose late cousin had spina bifida. “Sometimes they just want to feel normal.”
Smith, who’s also a commercial real estate agent with NAI, said the Batpark is expected to cost around $300,000. Project Bat’s annual fundraiser, dubbed the Bruce Wayne Gala, is scheduled Sept. 14 at The Old Glass House downtown. He noted Play & Park Structures pledged to match any fundraising dollars.
Williams said The Ridge is donating the land for the park. A 2021 opening is targeted for the Batpark.
TIF at The Ridge
Williams said a groundbreaking is expected later this year for The Ridge, a 100-acre mixed-used development planned for restaurants, hotels, offices, retail centers and lofts, as well as bike trails and natural elements. A senior living continuum-of-care center also is planned.
The Springfield Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority on July 2 denied a blight petition for The Ridge, which is seeking a tax increment financing district.
Sarah Kerner, Springfield’s director of economic development, said the LCRA disagreed with city staff members who were supportive of the blight designation. She said LCRA members weren’t “comfortable finding blight on an old farm.” RW Developments commissioned a blight study from St. Louis-based PGAV Planners, which found the area has “unsecured structures,” has been “subject to dumping,” and has topographic issues and bedrock throughout the property that would complicate development.
Kerner said RW Developments is moving forward on its TIF application. Williams said the TIF would help build roads and infrastructure at the development.
“We don’t have a lot of TIFs in Springfield, and we do not currently have an active TIF commission,” Kerner said. “All the members are expired. The next thing you’ll see is the appointment of members.”
A TIF commission meeting and a review by the Springfield Planning & Zoning Commission are required before the issue is taken up by City Council, which ultimately will decide on the TIF application, Kerner said.
Kerner said city staff members are “cautiously optimistic” about The Ridge.
“It’s a very ambitious project,” she said. “Obviously it’s a good location, but it’s an area that is challenging to develop because of its geography.”
Should everything go as planned, Williams expects development of The Ridge to be completed in 2021.
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