What’s next for downtown Springfield? Nonprofit weighs options

A recently formed nonprofit will review work that took place in Cincinnati and Hamilton to pull together ideas that might lead to a similar revitalization in downtown Springfield.

SpringForward was set up last year, with a goal of targeting redevelopment of existing properties in downtown Springfield to attract new businesses and investments.

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About a year later, the organization is looking at suggestions from organizations like KMK Consulting in Cincinnati, which worked on similar redevelopment efforts in places like Hamilton, downtown Cincinnati and Covington, Ky. And it’s looking at which projects might make the most sense for early investment here, said Ted Vander Roest, executive director of the Springfield Foundation and one of SpringForward’s organizers.

The takeaway is that agencies like SpringForward and the Turner Foundation need to work closely with entities like the city of Springfield and Clark County, he said, or redevelopment efforts will fall short.

“You’ve got to do it all together,” Vander Roest said. “It has to be a combined effort with a shared vision of working together. It’s just so much to do otherwise.”

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Downtown Springfield has already seen significant investment, according to information from MKSK, a landscape architecture and urban design firm in Columbus that’s working with SpringForward to develop a vision for what downtown Springfield might eventually look like.

More than $320 million has been invested in downtown Springfield since 2009, the bulk of which came with the new $275 million Springfield Regional Medical Center. But millions have also been put into projects like the NTPRD Chiller ice arena, Veteran’s Bridge Streetscape and historic Bushnell Building renovations.

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More recently additional investments will be made at projects like a restoration of the McAdams Building, 31 E. High St. The Turner Foundation is seeking about $2 million in state tax credits to attract investors and convert the vacant property into 56 market-rate apartments.

And SpringForward is also working with the city on a potential plan to develop a year-round marketplace at the former Myer’s Market downtown, Vander Roest said.

SpringForward formed through a partnership that includes the Springfield Foundation, the Turner Foundation, Speedway, the Chamber of Greater Springfield and the Springfield Regional Medical Center.

Most of the work in 2016 it spent organizing, Vander Roest said, and establishing its policies and procedures. This year there’s been more time to start thinking about which projects make the most sense for the city.

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SpringForward can be an important asset in drawing new investment to the city, said Jim McGraw, president and CEO of KMK Consulting. Springfield’s location and its historic buildings make it a good candidate for potential redevelopment, he said, as people increasingly look to live in downtown urban areas.

But the community needs to be aggressive, McGraw said, because it’s competing for investments with cities in suburban Columbus and areas like Beavercreek.

McGraw helped lead similar efforts in Northern Kentucky and Hamilton, and has been providing guidance to SpringForward.

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“If we don’t take control of this ourselves in a much more aggressive way, we could get eaten alive,” McGraw said. “Those communities to our east and our west, they’re not going to do us any favors. We need to do this kind of thing on our own.”

Cities like Cincinnati have far more resources for redevelopment, he said. But Hamilton showed smaller cities can also bring new life to downtown if local leaders can work together effectively.

Springfield should focus on a handful of short-term strategies, including developing more downtown housing, preserving historic buildings downtown and continuing efforts to convert one-way streets into two-way streets, according to MKSK, the Columbus design firm.

“The track record has been pretty good,” McGraw said of Springfield’s recent efforts to boost investment downtown. “All this is trying to do is accelerate it at a time when more and more people and businesses like urban centers. We’re just trying to make our urban center as vibrant as we can.”

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