New group to focus on downtown Springfield development

SpringForward is expected to raise money to provide low-interest loans to potential entrepreneurs and complete development projects in the downtown, Springfield Foundation Executive Director Ted Vander Roest said.

More than $400 million has been pumped into downtown Springfield over the past 10 years, including the construction of two downtown hospitals, a massive renovation of the historic Bushnell Building and the NTPRD Chiller ice arena. A downtown microbrewery is expected to open this spring and the Crowell-Collier building is in the midst of demolition.

Many of the details of SpringForward haven’t been finalized, Chamber of Greater Springfield President and CEO Mike McDorman said. He declined to comment further until those details are ironed out.

The goal of the group is to fill in the gaps around downtown, Vander Roest said.

“The idea is to look at projects, vet them out and provide whatever is needed to help get something going,” he said.

Discussions about the development group began last year with business and nonprofit leaders, Vander Roest said. They met with leaders in Hamilton who organized a similar development group in downtown.

Three years ago the Springfield Foundation decided to begin saving money for a large community initiative, Vander Roest said.

The foundation donates about $500,000 per year to charitable organizations, he said. It saved about $90,000 over the past three years of unrestricted funds for a yet-to-be-determined initiative.

The organization examined several ideas and decided SpringForward was a perfect fit for what the foundation wanted to accomplish, he said. The foundation gave the group, which is in the process of becoming a nonprofit, about $30,000 last year to create the organization and perform a downtown study, he said.

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

Other potential donors and partners couldn’t be reached for comment on Friday.

City leaders discussed the new organization at its retreat last weekend. It will be good for the community, Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said.

“I hope they can pull together some resources and make some things happen,” Copeland said. “That’s their goal and I hope they’re successful.”

The downtown study, completed in November by Dublin-based DiSalvo Development Advisors LLC, suggested several redevelopment priorities, including parking garages, reuse of historic buildings, more restaurants and market-rate housing.

The development group will likely perform a larger study in the future, Vander Roest said, including an in-depth look at the downtown housing market.

The city is also expected to update its Unified Plan later this year, which sets standards for zoning and design in the general area of downtown. The Unified Plan area is bounded by Buck Creek, Race Street, Spring Street, and Mulberry and West Jefferson Streets.

City staff members hope to bring recommendations to Springfield city commissioners in early summer, Deputy City Manager Bryan Heck said. The original Unified Plan was adopted in 2007.

“Everything is a living, breathing document and shouldn’t just sit on the shelf,” Heck said. “We look to make changes when appropriate.”

SpringForward isn’t meant replace the recently dissolved Center City Association, Vander Roest said. The group is development-based, Vander Roest said, rather than event-based.

Center City Board President Theresa Hartley was aware of the group, but said it played no role in the disbanding of the downtown advocacy group this week. The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau will take over of popular events Holiday in the City and the Springfield Farmers Market.

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