Housing key to downtown Springfield revitalization

Renovations have started on apartments in two downtown Springfield buildings, part of a long-term plan to show that the area is viable for potential residents.

The two separate projects include four apartments in the upper floors of the Firesale Warehouse, 122 E. Main St., and then units at 10-10½ N. Fountain Ave.

Encouraging even a handful of people to live downtown is an important step for a city like Springfield, said Alison Goebel, associate director with the Greater Ohio Policy Center, a Columbus nonprofit that conducts research and advocates for urban redevelopment.

“Even just a handful, less than 10, indicates that private developers have confidence in the market that there’s going to be interest,” she said. “What we are finding both nationwide, and in the state in particular, is that people do want those sorts of housing options, especially when you have other amenities nearby.”

One of the projects cover the upper two floors of the firesale building, 122 E. Main St., and could be completed as early as September, said Chris Lewis, whose Phoenix Builders company is renovating the property.

The Turner Foundation has owned the property for about six years, said Daren Cotter, chief financial officer for the organization. Cotter declined to discuss the organization’s investment in the project, but said the time seemed right after the first floor was renovated for the fire sale business.

The cost to rent an apartment hasn’t been determined, but Cotter said there has already been interest from businesses interested in renting a space and individual tenants.

Several senior living apartments are in or near downtown, including the Shawnee Place Apartments, and the Delscamp Lofts were renovated about a decade ago to add four condos.

But market-rate rental units have been less common.

“I would guess it’s been decades since market-rate housing has been downtown,” Cotter said.

Other cities, including Wooster and Marion, Ohio, have been successful in attracting residents to live downtown, Goebel said.

Springfield has also had some recent success bringing businesses like CodeBlue and the Springfield Regional Medical Center to the city center. Other smaller businesses, like Bada Bing Pizzeria, also have plans to open downtown later this year.

If more residents move downtown, that could eventually lead to other amenities like grocery stores or dry cleaners taking a closer look at the area, said Bill Harless, executive director of the Center City Association, an organization that promotes downtown Springfield.

“The addition of some downtown housing options in the form of apartments for rent is a huge step forward,” Harless said. “It’s going to allow people to experience downtown as a resident. It’s also going to help us identify what the services are that we need to make downtown a vibrant place for its residents.”

The apartments in the firesale building will eventually be outfitted with amenities like granite counter tops, hardwood floors and crown molding. Each apartment will have an open floor plan and include between 600 and 900 square feet of space.

While the apartments will offer modern amenities, the goal is to also preserve as much of the original building as possible, Lewis said. He pointed out a brick wall in one of the upper apartments that is partially covered with an advertisement from a former feed supply store that used to be adjacent to the building.

“One of their goals in each project is to try to take the building back to its original architecture,” Lewis said of the Turner Foundation.

Phoenix Builders is also working on a separate, unrelated project that will eventually add a small number of apartments downtown at 10-10½ N. Fountain Ave.

If the project is successful, Cotter said, it could be a first step in making downtown Springfield a more attractive place to live and work.

“What I’m finding out is downtown revitalization is like moving a big locomotive,” he said. “It starts really slow with a lot of effort and eventually you gain speed and build momentum.”

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