Some storefronts that once sat empty on South Yellow Springs Street are finding new occupants who say the area is ripe for investment.
“People are starting to notice change,” said local barber Alex Robinson. “What started out as individual efforts is starting to grow and expand collectively.”
Robinson, who grew up near the historic corridor, said more people are starting to take pride in the area that has experienced an economic decline over the past decades.
The street is home to several manufacturing facilities including the Kreider Corporation and Morgal Machine Tool Company, which is part of McGregor Metalworking Companies. However, it also contains blighted buildings and vacant lots.
A decline in industry a few decades ago took its toll on neighboring residential areas and in turn affected retail, said Cheryl Dover, the minority business development coordinator for the city of Springfield.
“Neighborhoods change over time. Large employers like International Harvester were in a down turn. People began moving out the city and things started to deteriorate. I believe that is what happened to South Yellow Springs Street,” she told the News-Sun in October.
However, Dover, who grew up near South Yellow Springs Street, said she feels that the area, once lined with shops, is poised for an economic resurgence. Some former and current residents of the city’s south side, where the street is located, have purchased buildings there, rehabilitated them and started businesses.
Sheila Lash Rice purchased a building, she said was in poor condition, at 1530 S. Yellow Springs St., and was able to turn it into an event space known as The L with her daughter Jaimee Jordan.
She told the News-Sun that the space, which opened up earlier this year, is already booked into January. Growing up in Springfield, Rice said she spent a lot of time on South Yellow Springs Street and remembers when it was a bustling area in the city’s south side.
She was invited to speak about the corridor in October as part of the 2019-2020 Global Education Speaker Series. That event featured stories of the corridor’s past and present as well as plans for the future.
Robinson opened up his barber shop at 1835 S. Yellow Springs St., in 2013 after his father William purchased the building.
Robinson said he has since purchased the building from his father and in addition to his barber shop he also runs a small car dealership there and rents out space to a convenience store. There are also plans of adding another dealership to the location by the end of the year.
He said signs of progress in the area are subtle, including less trash on the street compared to when he first set up shop.
Dover said the area has also attracted corporate retailer Dollar General that has a location at 1640 S. Yellow Springs St., which has attracted a sizable number of customers.
“It showed us that people are here and willing to spend their money (in the area),” she said, noting that it’s an indicator of the corridor’s potential to attract outside business.
Dover said there is also a mix of small and family operated businesses on the street including a tire center, a T-shirt store, a TV-repair shop and a funeral home that has operated for years. She said the corridor borders neighborhoods, with some residents having lived there for years.
“In the past many people who lived there were African Americans. That is changing as time goes by. There is more of a mixture of residents,” she said.
Shannon Meadows, the community development director for the city of Springfield, said the south western part of the city, which includes South Yellow Springs Street, is one of most diverse areas in Springfield. She said that includes diversity in residents’ age, religion, income and their ethnic and racial backgrounds.
That area has been the focus of the city’s engage neighborhood planning process that started last year. It aims to bring residents into the conversation of community and neighborhood reinvestment.
Meadows said instead of looking solely at developers to see what they can do for the area, the city wants to open those conversations to residents asking them what can be done in their neighborhoods to foster further economic development.
The conversations have targeted residents near South Limestone Street and has carried over to the South Yellow Springs Street corridor. Meadows said they have engaged with 260 community members in the whole area so far.
She said they hope to reuse vacant lots and buildings, look at new residential development opportunities in the area, strengthen preexisting assets in the community and add more green space that can include community gardens. Another goal is to increase connectivity between neighborhoods. Projects implemented in one can carry over to the other, Meadows said.
So far, the historic Gammon House on Piqua Place has been identified as a point of interest as a result of those conversations. Though not situated in the South Yellow Springs St., corridor, it has the potential to attract more people into the surrounding area, Meadows added.
The house was built in 1850 and is one of three existing structures in the state that was part of the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses and secret routes used by runaway slaves seeking freedom during the early to mid-1800s, according to the Gammon House website.
Though it is currently open on a limited basis, Meadows said they want to draw more attention to the historical asset and the surrounding area. She said that would be done gradually through multiple phases that could take more than 36 months and there is not a tentative start date at this time.
She said that they also want to engage more residents in the South Yellow Springs Street area starting next year.
Juli Springer, the engineering project manager for the city of Springfield, said there is also a two phased street reconstruction project slated for the corridor. She said the project will cost around $3 million and will include new pavement, new curb and gutters as well as sidewalks.
She said the first phase will target Main to Pleasant streets and will began in spring 2023. The next phase will begin the year after that and will focus on Pleasant Street to Grand Avenue.
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