Despite everything 2020 threw at Springfield, Missouri, things are looking rosy for the city. The population continues to increase at roughly 1% annually or about 4,000 net new residents, unemployment is at 3.9% and Springfield has consistently ranked in the top five metro areas in the nation each month for year over year growth in construction jobs according to Ryan Mooney, senior vice president of economic development at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.
Take a quick drive through the city, and you’ll see evidence of the growth that excites city leaders including Randall Whitman a principal planner with the Planning and Development Department, Division of Planning and Neighborhoods for the City of Springfield. Costco has broken ground off of Chestnut Expressway, the Springfield Art Museum is making floodplain corrections as part of its new master plan, and infrastructure improvements are happening all over, including downtown where Whitman is working on a new Downtown Plan.
Whitman is also the Project Manager for Forward SGF—the City’s overarching comprehensive planning initiative that focuses on creating a 20-year vision and blueprint for Springfield’s future. “It’s a plan to establish a vision for what we want the city to look like 20 years down the road,” Whitman says. “The Downtown Plan is one piece of that,” and the goal is to figure out what Springfield residents want out of their downtown and how it should evolve as a place for entertainment, residential and business. Whitman has had one meeting so far with the Downtown Advisory Team, but attendees made it clear they want to make downtown more diverse. “They want to create an environment that attracts more retail and office investment, and they want people to live downtown who will shop there and take ownership of the area,” Whitman says.
Community feedback like this is part of what will shape The Downtown Plan, which is still in the discovery and community input phase. The push for a more eclectic and diverse mix of retail, business and entertainment uses is something Whitman and the City are also applying to another study area, the East Trafficway Corridor Subarea. This corridor represents the eastern gateway to downtown and generally includes Trafficway and St. Louis streets, from Chestnut Expressway to National Avenue.
“It’s a junk drawer with everything imaginable,” Whitman says. “It has housing, antique stores, manufacturing… It’s eclectic, and the buildings have a texture to them... but it’s not the most attractive area.” There are abandoned buildings and brown spaces that are itching to be developed, so Whitman says the City’s role is to now facilitate input and identify public improvements that will make this stretch more attractive to residents and investors. Those improvements could be new parkscapes, landscaping, sidewalk repairs, signage… “all of the things that make the public realm more attractive,” he says.
The same thought is being applied to the Renew Jordan Creek project—the City’s longstanding effort to daylight portions of Jordan Creek near downtown. Around 1930, the City boxed the creek inside a concrete culvert to control flooding. Now, in an effort to beautify the area and address flood mitigation, the City is going to crack open parts of that culvert. Kirkland Preston, who works with the department of public works for the City, is project manager. He says it’s rare for a stormwater project to also be about beautification and economic revitalization.
Once the creek is daylighted, Preston says the risk of flooding will be reduced, which clears the way for development. Tim Rosenbury, director of quality of place initiatives, sees this as an example of placemaking. “It will not only look different, it will smell different and sound different,” he says. “It will be that sweet and sour combination of nature in the middle of the city.” It’s not his official title, but Rosenbury is basically Springfield’s placemaking czar. He’s taken the lead on several City-led placemaking efforts including the Grant Avenue Project, which will turn Grant Avenue into a pedestrian and bike friendly pathway.
The goal of this $32 million project is to connect central hubs of business and tourism including Bass Pro and Wonders of Wildlife to downtown. The 3-mile stretch will include Wi-Fi and 10-foot-wide sidewalks for pedestrians and cyclists. Overhead utilities will be moved underground, and existing greenspaces will connect with the route. Rosenbury’s hope is that this project will connect some of Springfield’s biggest attractions and be the catalyst for neighborhood improvements along Grant Avenue.
Another major project about to begin is at the Springfield Art Museum. Estimated at $20 million, this redesign will give portions of the museum a total facelift, increase parking and outdoor exhibit space and tie the museum into its natural surroundings. The first stage of the project—flood mitigation efforts to Fassnight Creek—is set to begin this summer. The biggest change will be the addition of glass-fronted wings, one of which will face National Avenue. “Nothing we put outside will be better than what we have happening inside,” says Museum Director Nick Nelson. “But we wanted to connect nature and art.”
As part of that effort, Fassnight Creek Greenway Trail will extend around the museum. “Think of this as a connector between spaces,” Nelson says. The goal is to connect Fassnight Trail to Grant Avenue, which connects Wonders of Wildlife to downtown where placemaking is already underway.