Community Mercy Health Partners has committed $1 million to a local organization aimed at revitalizing downtown Springfield.
The money will be give over five years to the nonprofit group, SpringFORWARD, and is intended to boost development of businesses and housing in the downtown area, said Paul Hiltz, president and CEO of Community Mercy Health Partners and co-chairman of SpringFORWARD.
>> More Coverage: New group to focus on downtown Springfield development
Mercy Health has already invested a lot in downtown, Hiltz said, with the opening of the $250 million Springfield Regional Medical Center in 2011 and the Springfield Regional Cancer Center before that.
“This is another way to show that we want to improve the overall community,” he said.
SpringFORWARD is made up of Clark County economic development and government agencies, foundations and private businesses. So far the partners have committed more than $4.8 million to the organization’s efforts. Other partners include Speedway, the Springfield Foundation, the Turner Foundation and the Walter S. Quinlan Foundation.
“We want to make it a great place to work and live,” Hiltz said. “It makes it easier to attract and retain great workers when you’ve got a vibrant downtown.”
The organization plans to offer incentives to developers to redevelop downtown, said Ted Vander Roest, executive director of the Springfield Foundation and co-chairman of SpringFORWARD. The Springfield Foundation has committed to give the organization $100,000 each year over the next five years.
“It will take all of us working together to improve the heart of our city,” Vander Roest said.
SpringFORWARD may have architects draw up plans for city buildings, he said, to determine what would be a good fit for redevelopment. The organization has a list of buildings to look at, Vander Roest said, including the McAdams Building at 31 E. High St.
But it’s too early to say what will be the group’s first project, he said.
Community members want to see more options downtown.
“Too many small businesses come and go,” Springfield resident Justin Board said.
Downtown has lost its charm, Board said, as businesses and residents have spread out into the nearby suburban areas.
“Downtown could be a cultural hub for small businesses,” he said, but they need the support of the community.
More jobs are needed before downtown that can attract more residents, said Avery Sledge, who works in Springfield.
“You’re not going to attract a talent pool unless you have opportunities,” Sledge said.
It’s something SpringFORWARD is looking at, too, Hiltz said.
“We want to give graduates a reason to stay,” he said.
Both Board and Sledge also want more entertainment options.
“What I would love to see is multi-use buildings with residences, shopping, food,” Sledge said.
SpringFORWARD is working with a consultant, Jim McGraw, to provide guidance for the group. McGraw has been involved with redevelopment plans in Hamilton, Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati.
“We’ll learn from the others and build our own version,” Hiltz said.
Progress will take years, Hiltz said, but the organization has been able to raise funds quickly.
“It’ll take a year or two to begin to see real tangible results,” he said.