The Turner Foundation recently renovated new apartments in downtown Springfield.

Apartments part of downtown Springfield revitalization efforts

New high-end apartments in downtown Springfield are part of a long-time effort by local leaders to draw more residents and businesses to the city’s center.

The Turner Foundation hosted an open house Tuesday night for three new apartments on Main Street, and the nonprofit’s leaders said they believe it won’t be long before more downtown space is available in other unused buildings.

Providing live-able space in a city’s core is important not only to attract residents, but also drive additional investment over time, said Alison Goebel, associate director with the Greater Ohio Policy Center, a Columbus-based nonprofit that conducts research and advocates for urban redevelopment.

Goebel visited Springfield a couple of years ago and said local leaders are taking the right steps to bring more life to downtown.

“Housing can prompt additional investments, especially commercial and retail to come into those areas where maybe the market is a little soft or reluctant to do that,” Goebel said.

The project, called Johnson Flats, 124 E. Main St., next door to four additional apartments the Turner Foundation recently renovated.

“Any building you see that’s empty or under-utilized right now is an opportunity to do this,” said John Landess, the foundation’s executive director.

The new apartments include the building’s original hardwood floors, marble counter tops and stainless steel appliances. The Turner Foundation created a Facebook page to show off the new apartments, Landess said, and was surprised at the demand.

A 1,000-square-foot apartment will cost $1,200 a month to rent and a smaller 951-square-foot apartment will go for $1,000 per month.

“People say there’s no market, but we’ve never given people a reason to come downtown,” Landess said.

Some locally owned businesses have opened in downtown Springfield in recent months.

Revival: The Art of Healing is a yoga studio and tea bar that opened earlier this year on North Fountain Avenue. Cloud Nine Yoga recently moved from a space in the Bushnell Building in Springfield to a new location at 126 E. Main St. downtown. And a $2.5 million brewery called Mother Stewart’s Brewery is expected to open this spring.

It’s common for developers to underestimate the demand from residents to live downtown, Goebel said. She cited similar Ohio cities like Hamilton and Marion that have started to look for ways to make more apartments available in their downtowns.

“The market analysis experts are really starting to get a better handle on this, but it does seem like every place that we are working in in Ohio, there’s not enough housing for the demand,” Goebel said.

In Marion, Lois Fisher owns a small real estate investment and development company that began renovating and opening loft apartments in that city as far back as the late 1990s. Since then, she estimated she’s helped open more than 20 lofts, as well as a market rate apartment building downtown.

“We basically started realizing that in order to get your downtown back, you needed people walking, living and working in it,” Fisher said. “What we found was we had people working in our downtown but it was closing up at 5 p.m. because they went home. To constantly having feet on the street, you need people living downtown.”

Along with the initial investment, one of the biggest challenges is keeping as much of the original building as possible and preserving the parts that make it stand out, she said.

“You have to work with the building rather than you trying to define what the building is going to be,” Fisher said. “Budgetary concerns are always an issue simply because you don’t know what you’re going to get into when you start doing electrical and plumbing upgrades. Most buildings have had 100 years of other people’s ideas. And some of them weren’t very visionary.”

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