$4.8M raised for downtown Springfield redevelopment

Clark County economic development and government agencies, foundations and private businesses have banded together to kick start commercial and residential development in downtown Springfield.

A new nonprofit called SpringForward has raised more than $4.8 million. It’s focused on targeting investments on existing properties to revitalize the city’s urban center.

No specific projects have been identified and group members are still laying out the framework for the organization, said Ted Vander Roest, executive director of the Springfield Foundation and one of SpringForward’s organizers.

“A developer might be looking at (a project) and it’s not quite profitable,” Vander Roest said. “We’re hoping to be able to come in and provide funds at a lower interest rate or some other incentive to make the project more affordable for the developer so it’s viable.”

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The Springfield Foundation has committed to providing $100,000 each year for the next five years to SpringForward.

Work so far has included establishing SpringForward as a nonprofit, securing initial seed funding, visiting other communities with similar projects, and paying for downtown market analysis and hotel feasibility studies, according to a document presented at a Community Improvement Corp. of Springfield meeting Thursday.

The document also listed other groups and businesses involved in the SpringForward, including Community Mercy Health Partners, Speedway and the Turner Foundation.

The idea is based on similar efforts that led to redevelopment in Hamilton in Butler County. The Hamilton CORE project raised money to provide gap financing for redevelopment projects in that city’s downtown.

Jim McGraw, president and CEO of KMK Consulting in Cincinnati, has worked with Hamilton, Cincinnati and Covington, Ky., on redevelopment plans. He was involved in SpringForward early on and provided guidance for the group.

Organizers knew the entity was viable once CEOs from companies like Speedway and Community Mercy became key players, McGraw said.

“It will hopefully lead to a better downtown Springfield where people not only want to go to have a drink, but hopefully want to go to live,” McGraw said.

More than $400 million has been invested in downtown Springfield over the past decade, including projects to improve Fountain Avenue, a new downtown park, ice rink and whitewater enhancements to Buck Creek. There have also been private investments like the Springfield Regional Medical Center and Ohio Valley Medical Center.

But momentum began to subside by 2014, according to the CIC document.

In the past, redevelopment was typically done either by the city or by individual investors. But SpringForward will combine local expertise and resources, McGraw said, and focus on projects that make the most sense.

“We were able to say, ‘Let us in the private sector exert more leadership because the load on the back of the city is too much to carry alone,’” McGraw said.

More details will be available over the next several weeks but it’s too early to discuss specific projects, said Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for the Chamber of Greater Springfield.

The update provided to CIC members Thursday showed the group plans to speak to local architects to create drawings of what some downtown buildings might look like if redeveloped. The group is also looking for a market-rate residential developer to convert a prominent building downtown from commercial to residential use but didn’t identify which property.

The CIC document also notes now is the right time to focus on redevelopment. The region has seen job growth at Speedway’s corporate headquarters, as well as manufacturing firms like Navistar. Companies like Assurant, Dole, Heroux-Devtek, Pentaflex and Yamada North America are also growing.

“With nearly $400 million invested in recent years, we certainly want to keep the momentum going,” Springfield City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said. “We think SpringForward can do that very well. These are private dollars being invested by individuals interested in moving our community forward.”

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