Marianne Kesler sits in her apartment in downtown Springfield Friday. The Springfield Tomorrow program, designed to attract and retain the under-40 demographic to the city, has released its goals. Its first task will be to examine ways to promote both downtown living and downtown apartment construction projects. Bill Lackey/Staff
Photo: Bill Lackey
Photo: Bill Lackey

Springfield Tomorrow reveals goals for city

First project will focus on downtown living, investments.

Springfield Tomorrow — a partnership between the city, Wittenberg University’s Hagen Center for Civic and Urban Engagement and Young Professionals of Greater Springfield — is designed to help residents under 40 years old voice their opinion about the city and its future.

The group held public meetings this spring and collected online surveys to discover what millennials believe will help attract their peers to the city.

Last month, Springfield Tomorrow finalized its goals, which include better marketing of local businesses and attractions, advertising the demand for a modern movie theatre and more downtown live music and outdoor dining venues, among others.

The first project is a tour of downtown living options for residents, investors and developers, said Springfield Stormwater Coordinator Sky Schelle. He is coordinating the under-40 effort for the city.

The walking tour is being held at 9 a.m. Saturday at the First Baptist Church, 638 S. Fountain Ave. It will include visits to available South Fountain Avenue properties, the Turner Foundation’s newly-renovated Deitzel Apartments on Main Street and a preview of the three-unit loft project currently underway above the Fire Sale Warehouse Store, 122 E. Main St.

It will highlight South Fountain residential neighborhoods and apartment living in downtown Springfield, Schelle said.

“It will demonstrate that other investors can do similar projects and that there’s a market for it,” Schelle said.

The renovated loft apartments will be completed before the end of the year, said Turner Foundation Executive Director John Landess. The exterior building is also being renovated to bring it back to its turn-of-the-century look, he added.

The foundation is committed to bringing more people to live downtown, Landess said.

“(Downtown living) has to happen if this town is going to thrive,” Landess said. “We have to have those types of offerings.”

Local musician Marianne Kesler and her husband John moved to the rehabilitated Delscamp Loft condominiums on West High Street from Bellefontaine about 10 years ago. They enjoy being able to walk or ride bicycles to the many attractions downtown, including the Kuss Auditorium, the Springfield Family YMCA, local parks and the farmers market, among others.

“We’re able to walk or cycle to about anywhere except the grocery store,” Marianne Kesler said.

A lot of progress has been made downtown, but sometimes it can feel a bit slow, she said. She’d like to see the remainder of the downtown park completed and more options become available at night, she said.

About 20 percent of the city’s population is comprised of residents between the ages of 20 and 34, according to five-year demographic estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Larger Ohio cities such as Columbus (29 percent) and Cincinnati (27 percent) are attracting the 20 to 34 demographic, while cities with similar populations to Springfield — such as Lima (23 percent), Hamilton (21 percent) and Middletown (20 percent) — are also struggling to attract younger people.

The program is also reaching out to colleges and universities with entrepreneurship programs to encourage bringing their business start-ups to Springfield, Schelle said.

“Those schools are filled with students with an idea to start a business, and why not start it here in Springfield?” he said.

Of the more than 100 surveys collected, many people expressed their desire for a more modern movie theatre, Schelle said. There are currently no indoor movie theaters situated within the city limits.

“There’s a lot of demand for that,” Schelle said.

Chakeres Cinema 10 on East National Road is located nearby in Springfield Twp. Nationwide, new multi-million dollar multiplex theaters are only being built in large metropolitan areas, said CEO Phillip Chakeres of Springfield-based Chakeres Theaters, Inc. This is due, he said, to changes in the entertainment industry

People are typically viewing the same movie just once, rather than returning for several viewings like they did in the past, he said. Also, people have more options at home with cable television, digital video discs, Redbox and online streaming services like Netflix.

With a dwindling population in Clark County, the Springfield market may not be able to support that type of investment while also competing with other entertainment options, Chakeres said.

The company has made upgrades to its currently facilities, including this week converting to digital projectors at the Cinema 5 location at the Upper Valley Mall, he added.

“We will continue to try to make improvements and make it a better experience for everybody,” Chakeres said.

Another goal is to have a large play area that millennials to take their children to. The city has discussed the idea for years, Schelle said, but is still seeking input from the public.

The process won’t be completed overnight, Schelle said. Some of the ideas can’t be implemented without help from the public, he added.

“If people see these goals and there’s something that interests them, we want them to contact us,” he said.

Several of the goals listed by the program are already being completed, including more outdoor dining options. O’Conner’s recently opened its new restaurant on North Limestone Street with an outdoor patio, while another patio at Mela Urban Bistro and Grill at the downtown Courtyard by Marriott is currently under construction.

An adult kickball league was also created this summer after residents at the public meetings said it was needed in the community.

The effort is providing a means for people to have an impact on the community, Schelle said.

“It helps validate the work we’ve put into the process,” Schelle said. “It may seem small, like a kickball league or Mela’s outdoor dining, but it’s tiny little steps like that (help improve the community).”

For more information on the program, call Schelle at 937-324-7739.

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