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What do the next 20 years hold?

Community members are shaping priorities for Springfield’s new comprehensive plan

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Planning for 2040 began last year, and city officials say Springfield residents have started to identify key issues for the next comprehensive plan.

Dubbed Forward SGF, the conversation continued in late January with three visioning workshops where residents voiced concerns and gave input on what they want Springfield to look like in the next 20 years. Over 800 people participated in the workshops, according to the Forward SGF website.

Comprehensive plan consultant Houseal Lavigne Associates is still sifting through the input. Yet, several key issues have stood out throughout the Forward SGF process: Lack of public transportation and affordable housing are two of them, said Brendan Griesemer, the city’s planning and development manager.

Poverty, crime, homelessness and low wages also were among the issues most frequently talked about by residents during workshops last year, according to a Forward SGF report.

But the comprehensive plan will be used to address priorities that can be impacted with land use and development initiatives, said Mary Lilly Smith, Springfield’s Planning and Development director. It’s a land-use plan per state legislation, she said.

“It’s not really designed to solve social issues,” Smith said. “We can do some things that have an indirect impact on those issues but not directly.”

For example, she said increasing affordable housing could impact the city’s poverty and homelessness rates.

For now, no goals or action steps have been identified for Forward SGF. Smith said the next steps are to identify the community’s full vision for 2040 and to hold focus groups to discuss how to achieve those goals. The action plans will then be put in front of the community.

“We can’t come out with action steps and goals that are not tolerable to the community,” Smith said. “Whether it’s something that’s a new policy that the city is going to implement or if it’ll require additional funding, … it’ll all require community support.”

Here’s a breakdown of the key issues Springfield residents have identified in Forward SGF.

Housing
Homeownership in Springfield has been steadily declining over the past decade, and residents have pointed to the housing stock and lack of affordable options.

Between 2010 and 2018, the city’s homeownership rate fell five percentage points to 44.3%. Greene County homeownership since 2009 also has steadily dropped by 5%, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Griesemer said the city has developed programs to help local homebuyers. He pointed to the city’s down payment assistance program, which he said came from Vision 20/20, to increase homeownership rates. But it’s just a drop in the bucket, he said.

Residents also have voiced concerns about addressing nuisance properties. Local developers recently have begun cleaning up some of these properties.

For instance, Titus Williams of Prosperiti Partners LLC is in the process of rehabbing roughly 180 homes once owned by embattled landlord Chris Gatley of 417 Rentals LLC. Williams has spent roughly $3 million on renovating the homes, primarily on the north side, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

Outdoor focus
The park system, managed by the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, comprises 3,200 acres among over 100 parks and recreational facilities, according to its website. And Springfield residents want to continue the effort on expanding greenspace and connecting greenway trails from Vision 20/20.

One park project in the works for some time is the westward expansion of Jordan Valley Park, aka Jordan Valley West Meadows. The project was a priority of Vision 20/20 but funding didn’t come as quickly as anticipated, Griesemer said. The 200-acre project also was delayed by environmental contamination and the relocation of rail lines.

“As funding sources are made available, we continue to implement West Meadows. That’s a key part of the development of downtown,” he said.

The project is set to receive $460,000 in funding this year through the one-eighth cent transportation sales tax and a grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, according to the city’s 2020 Capital Improvements Program.

Randall Whitman, principal planner for the city, said development of West Meadows is scheduled to start this summer.

A placemaking project is also in the works to expand the greenway trail system and make transportation improvements along a 3.3-mile stretch of Grant Avenue from downtown Springfield to Sunshine Street. The city received nearly $21 million in federal funds for the project.

As for the city’s transportation system, residents have identified a lack of public transportation, pedestrian connectivity and bicycle infrastructure, according to the Issues and Opportunities report.

City character
Another common thread in the community discussion is a need to beautify Springfield and a lack of diversity and inclusion in the community.

Residents brought up a lack of diversity 180 times as being a key issue during the city’s outreach process last year. Smith said the issue can’t be directly impacted by the plan, though it still remains an important part of the vision planning.

“If we can create an environment where employers want to locate their businesses in Springfield with adequate zoned land, does that help provide good-paying jobs? What are those things we can do along the same lines to show Springfield is a welcoming community and show opportunities for diversity? That’s what we’re going to be talking about over the next couple of months,” Smith said.

Griesemer said the number of comments related to city beautification has been a surprise to city staff. He said residents have pointed to the city’s main corridors, like Chestnut Expressway, as areas for improvement.

Economic development
Residents also have called for higher wages and talent retention.

Springfield’s median income in 2018 was nearly $35,700, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And the average hourly wage was roughly $20, which is 20% below the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Rusty Worley, executive director of Downtown Springfield Association, said there are pieces already in place to attract high-paying jobs and keep college students in the downtown area.

“IDEA Commons is a big part of creating new or high-paying jobs, and our young professionals need to have good opportunities and quality of place,” Worley said. “The activity we’ll have in the Commons and daylighting of Jordan Creek will be attractive to the companies who want to be in this area.”

The IDEA Commons expansion plan includes a 100,000-square-foot office building, a 30,000-square-foot expansion of Jordan Valley Innovation Center and parking garage.

Convention center campus
During resident workshops, Springfieldians continued to mention the need to build a convention center, according to Forward SGF documents.

The Springfield Expo Center was built during Vision 20/20, but Smith said the plans to continue building the convention campus with a sports facility fell through.

Last year, a feasibility study laid out recommendations for a convention center and hotel development near the Bass Pro Shops campus. It was estimated to have a $1.1 billion economic impact over a 20-year period.

Smith called the goal for a convention center a “discrete project.”

“We’re developing a plan for the next 20 years, so it has to be more than just, ‘We need to build a convention center.’ If you close your eyes and envision this city 20 years from now, I hope you see this amazing community, whether it’s greenways and parks and beautifully landscaped boulevards, high rises … fully rehabilitated neighborhoods,” Smith said. “That’s what we ought to be thinking about.”

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