The city of Springfield and community members have been looking ahead to 2040 as discussions continue for a new comprehensive plan. The latest campaign, dubbed Forward SGF, comes on the heels of Vision 20/20 – an effort that began in 1996 to identify initiatives to further develop Springfield.
Vision 20/20, approved in 2004, was a dynamic plan that covered such initiatives as affordable housing, center city development, transportation, water quality and cultural development.
Randall Whitman, principal planner for the city, said the comprehensive plans are overall concepts of what Springfield could look like in the future, noting there were thousands of ideas included in the overall plan.
“They’re 20-year visions, so we want to have a significant transformation of the city,” he said. “This planning effort isn’t just about milestones of seeing Heer’s project redeveloped or a park developed ... those are just aspects of the community that contribute toward that vision.”
Springfield Business Journal talked to city officials and those involved in the city’s transformation for a look back on Vision 20/20.
Parks and greenways
Whitman said one of the plan’s hallmarks was the expansion of parks and greenways.
“That’s something we hear over and over again,” he said. “People love that about Springfield, and it’s a quality of life thing when the community invests in the trails and parkways.”
The system managed by the Springfield-Greene County Park Board now comprises over 3,200 acres among over 100 parks and recreational facilities, according to the park board website. Vision 20/20 documents show action items that included acquiring land for park use, designing new parks and improving the greenway system.
Whitman said the plan birthed Jordan Valley Park – an area that’s now home to Hammons Field, Jordan Valley Ice Park and the Springfield Exposition Center.
In 1998, a 2.5-cent hotel/motel tax was approved to help fund the park. It was intended to cover 200 acres between National Avenue and Kansas Expressway, according to SBJ archives. The planned expansion to the west, dubbed Jordan Valley West Meadows, has yet to materialize.
In 2001, the city broke ground on the $3 million Phase I of Jordan Valley Park, which opened along East Trafficway Street with an interactive water feature and amphitheater in May 2002. The adjacent Jordan Valley Ice Park was built in 2001, and Hammons Field opened by 2004.
“Twenty years ago, they said, ‘We need a central park located downtown,’ and we’re still working on it,” Whitman said.
Whitman said he anticipates West Meadows, which has been over a decade in discussions, will receive funding this year.
Heer’s, College Station and Wilhoit Plaza
Vision 20/20 also called for a massive revitalization of downtown Springfield, particularly 400,000 square feet between the Heer’s, College Station and Wilhoit Plaza buildings.
The Heer’s building, which sat undeveloped for decades, was brought back to life in 2015 when Heer’s Luxury Living LLC co-owner Jim Nichols turned the former department store into 80 lofts and commercial space. The $15.7 million project was funded through property tax abatements on new improvements, federal historic preservation tax credits and a small-business loan through the city, according to SBJ archives.
Rusty Worley, executive director of Downtown Springfield Association, said Heer’s shifted the perception of downtown.
“It looked over us with its 10 stories for 20 years and was a dark corner of the square,” Worley said. “Now that it’s 80 units, filled with lofts and with over 100 (information technology) jobs paying a good wage, it’s really revitalized that section of the square. It’s been a bellwether.
“Downtown wasn’t going to be fully revitalized until the Heer’s building was done.”
At College Station, a three-story, mixed-use development dubbed College Station Lofts was created in 2013 and connected to the College Station Car Park. It also included retail and restaurant space, which currently houses Moxie Cinema, Artisan Elements and The Well Church. Three restaurant and office spaces remain available, according to owner Tillman Redevelopment’s website. College Station is also home to the 14-screen Hollywood Theaters complex and a 400-car parking garage that went up in 2008.
As for Wilhoit Plaza, Matt Miller Co. unveiled the 100,000-square-foot, mixed-use building in 2006 after $15 million in renovations with historic tax credits, according to SBJ archives. The revitalization created 32 lofts and 60,000 square feet of commercial space, which currently houses tenants such as 417 Taphouse, carGO and Craft Axe Throwing.
Downtown public parking
Along with the redevelopment of lofts, the College Station and Heer’s projects also added roughly 700 parking spaces in 2008, according to a Vision 20/20 report.
Worley said downtown now has about 6,000 parking spaces, comprising public parking garages, on-street parking, available church parking lots and private lots. Now, Worley said the challenge is educating visitors. “We’re always fighting that urban legend that there’s no parking downtown,” Worley said, despite the Vision 20/20 addition of wayfinding signs for public parking downtown in 2005. “We’re continuing to look at new ways of how we can promote the parking.”
Whitman said it’s more of an issue of convenient parking, adding that many people want to have at-the-door parking.
Restoration of the Gillioz Theatre wrapped up in 2006, following a $10 million, 15-year rehabilitation, according to SBJ archives. It was a priority laid out within the first year of Vision 20/20, according to the comprehensive plan documents.
Now, the theater at 325 Park Central East is home to “The Mystery Hour” talk show, Hill City Church and many concerts.
“It’s something now that’s bringing local and national acts on a regular basis,” Worley said. “When the Gillioz is thriving, it makes a difference in Park Central East. It’s been a great addition to the live music and entertainment scene.”
Convention center campus
Talks of a convention center in Springfield have been ongoing for a long time, and it all spurred from Vision 20/20, Whitman said.
The comprehensive plan called for a multiuse arena adjacent to the Springfield Exposition Center.
“There’s been a lot of talk about where it should go. That’s something the community will have to decide,” Whitman said. “We really need to say, ‘What’s our goal? To expand downtown outward? Create connections to C-Street?’ A convention center is just one way to achieve that vision.”
Last year, a feasibility study laid out recommendations for a convention center and hotel development on the Bass Pro Shops campus, according to past SBJ reporting. It was estimated to have a $1.1 billion economic impact over a 20-year period.
Tracy Kimberlin, president and CEO of the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, said this needs to be a priority in Forward SGF.
“[A] convention center and tournament-grade indoor sports facility are the two big needs we have from a visitor perspective,” Kimberlin said. “Those facilities will attract out-of-town visitors (who) come in to pay the taxes we’ll have to pay otherwise.”
‘Art City USA’
An effort was originally underway to make Springfield “Art City USA,” according to Vision 20/20 documents. The report cites the city working with the CVB to bring attention to the arts in the Queen City.
“Springfieldians have already begun referring to the Creamery as the ‘Art Beat of the City’ although we are focused on making Springfield ‘Art City USA,’” according to a Vision 20/20 report.
The report cites banners that were strung throughout town and a contribution to “The Simpsons Movie” in 2007. But the city never earned the title, and officials involved with the arts and tourism didn’t recall the campaign efforts.
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