Springfield Resurgence: Building momentum sees more people calling the city home

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

For nearly 20 years, local investors have laid the foundation for an economic development in Springfield and surrounding areas, working to attract high-tech companies and a strong workforce.

But a key component to the city’s economic resurgence is to ensure that there’s enough quality housing for families, many of whom officials are hoping will live and work in the city. So as part of the housing development plan, Springfield officials are reviewing proposals that will bring more than 2,000 housing units to the area, the most in decades.

In addition, multiple townhomes and apartments have been built in Springfield within the past five years. The majority of the residential growth is currently concentrated in Springfield’s east side, said City Manager Bryan Heck.

Residents are currently moving into the Bridgewater development near the Tuttle Road Wal-Mart, and the housing unit community became the first major housing development in the Springfield area since the 1990s. The development’s final phase is slated to end this year, bringing the total number of housing lots in the Bridgewater community to 226.

The same developer of Bridgewater, DDC Management, is looking to create another housing development in the area, separate from the Bridgewater Project. The planned development, known as Sycamore Ridge, will be located along East Leffel Lane and South Burnett Road. The goal of the developers is to bring more than 250 new homes to the area, with the first phase of the project slated to begin this year.

A Columbus-area developer – Borror property management – is gearing up to build more than 1,200 housing units in Springfield on a tract of land that includes the former Melody drive-in theater, located east of the city. The proposed homes will be a mixture of single-family, multi-family and patio-style, and the units will be built over five phases that span multiple years.

Stabilizing the population

Greater Springfield Partnership Vice President of Economic Development Horton Hobbs said the partnership used to focus mostly on encouraging people to both live and work within the city, but has since adopted a “dual strategy.” With the city’s proximity to Interstate 70, people can easily live in Springfield and commute to work in Columbus or the Dayton area, and vice versa. And they do: roughly 56% of people who live in Springfield are leaving the city each day to commute to work, according to the partnership.

“We know much more about how much of our population is going somewhere else than we ever have before,” said Hobbs. “We are now working with our partners to tell a different story about the opportunities that exist today.”

A 2019 housing market analysis of the Springfield area by the Greater Ohio Policy Center in collaboration with the city’s housing consortium found that since 1970, the city’s population had been in decline. Since 2013, the number of residents living in poverty has also declined.

However, in 2017, nearly one in four residents were still living in poverty.

After the decades of population decline in Springfield, the city has seen a “stabilization” in the population over the past five years, Heck said. The city’s population has bounced back to roughly 59,500 residents, and that number isn’t expected to decline.

“I believe over the next 10 years, we have the ability to see an increase in our population that we have not seen in decades,” Heck said.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Renter population in Springfield growing

The study also found that the population of homeowners in the city — mirroring the national trends — has also declined since 2013.

The ratio of renters to homeowners has changed since the Great Recession. As of 2017, more than half of the city’s residents are renters, according to the housing study.

The collection of current proposed housing communities are designed to cater to the needs of a diversity of potential buyers and renters, said Hobbs.

The development proposed for the former Melody drive-in, for instance, is expected to include a mix of single family and multi-family units to appeal to hopeful homeowners and renters alike. The mix of housing units also appeal to multiple age groups: young professionals, families and seniors who are looking to downsize their living spaces.

A portion of current city and county residents are expected to move into the housing developments, Hobbs said, leaving certain houses in the city available for renters to move into.

“There’s going to certainly be some inward mobility of people in the community,” he said. “And there will be a backfill of folks who are currently renting to fill the houses that are vacated.”

Much work has been completed, too, to address blighted properties throughout the county, said Clark County Landbank Executive Director Ethan Harris.

The Clark County Landbank has demolished 50 properties from 2018 to 2021, with an additional 20 properties rehabilitated from 2019 to 2021.

Catching up with housing, but energy builds

But overall, the city is “behind” on housing but is “catching up very quickly” to meet the needs of residents, said Greater Springfield Partnership President and CEO Mike McDorman. More than 2,000 housing units are proposed for the Springfield area in the next 10 years.

Housing options and livable wages drive the economic ecosystem of a city, said Hobbs, and members of the partnership and city leaders have also been working to create amenities that encourage adults and families alike to call Springfield home.

“People want a good quality of life,” McDorman said. “You really need a vibrant downtown with a lot of entertainment, retail, restaurant opportunities to drive housing downtown as well as people wanting to come here downtown.”

And that momentum is building. There’s an energy in town that the city hasn’t felt for quite some time, said Springfield Development Director Tom Franzen.

New shops are moving into the downtown stretch on Fountain Avenue: pretzel shops, dinner spots, bakeries, coffee stops and retail locations are drawing customers to the area, as well as developing jobs in Springfield’s core.

“You feel there’s a difference downtown,” he said.

About this series

News-Sun reporters spent the past two months talking with investors, government officials and local experts and digging through records to bring you exclusive details and analysis about an initiative to revitalize the city of Springfield and surrounding communities.

This Springfield Resurgence series — consisting of multiple stories that will run over the next two weeks — looks at what has been done in the past 15 years to draw new investments and stabilize a population in decline. Our reporters looked at how housing will play a role in future economic development, what is being done to diversify the county’s employer base and how the business community has partnered with local educational institutions to meet workforce demands.

On July 24-25, we’ll look at the city’s future economic and housing development plans, and dig into how area colleges are preparing current and future workforces for the tech jobs officials are looking to bring to the area. Our digital subscribers will also get access to exclusive content on SpringfieldNewsSun.Com in the coming days.

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