It was standing room only in the Springfield City Hall Wednesday evening for a public forum hosted by Forward Progress Springfield and featuring Quint Studer, author of “Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen Powered Change Is Reshaping America.” Studer talked about ways to improve Springfield and make it a more appealing city. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Springfield takes notes from expert in efforts to revitalize downtown

City leaders are hoping to boost Springfield’s downtown revitalization by mimicking what has worked in other cities.

Springfield’s downtown lacks housing and parking, and residents who may want to live and work there need more amenities, officials have told this news organization. The city has seen growth in recent years, but the downtown area remains a major focus for continued development in the area.

“There’s been a lot of momentum in the community,” said Mike McDorman, president and CEO of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve brought over 5,000 jobs in the last five years. We’re seeking to rebuild our downtown. We’ve been working on our gateways and corridors; we’ve been working on our parks; we’ve been working on our schools.”

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But more jobs isn’t enough with young talent leaving Springfield and stagnant population, said Quint Studer, author, speaker and founder of Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute.

The institute is a nonprofit organization focused on improving the quality of life in Pensacola, Fla., and moving the community forward. Studer spoke to a standing room only crowd Wednesday, addressing how Springfield could adopt Pensacola’s success in building the city’s downtown.

“What we really are trying to do is reverse migration. We’re trying to get talent that doesn’t think they can stay in Springfield, Ohio, and bring it back,” Studer said.

To do that, Springfield has to build something young people like — bars, restaurants, experience-oriented retail and big projects like halls that host musicians popular with young adults. But the city can’t do it all at once, he said.

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“You have to create one great intersection…You have to pick one and make it hum. Then you go to the second one, the third one, the fourth one. If you try to do more than one, you don’t have enough critical impact,” he said. ” If you try to do eight things, you can’t put enough resources to make the one thing hum.”

The city needs to move ground-floor law offices higher in buildings and add more stores, coffee shops, restaurants and venues people will stop at when walking, Studer said. The one-way streets also stand in the way of a vibrant downtown because people drive too fast and don’t notice the things that could spark them to stop and visit the downtown area.

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Springfield would benefit from a focus on pre-kindergarten education when children’s brains are still developing, Studer said. It would have a ripple effect in better education as those students grow older.

The solution comes down to alignment. Everyone has to be on the same page regarding where the city is going, he said. Local ownership and local input is key.

“It’s important from a civic engagement standpoint,” McDorman said. “We need everyone to understand what we’re trying to do as a community and get involved with it.”

The Chamber will have more upcoming discussions on Springfield’s next steps toward downtown revitalization, McDorman said.

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