“If you look at (North Fountain Avenue) you are starting to see progress that has come from a lot of hard work and perseverance. I would say that is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Daren Cotter, the Chief Financial Officer of the Turner Foundation.
Pretzelmaker will open just around the corner from a new pocket park that has a giant mural on North Fountain Avenue. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Credit: Bill Lackey
Credit: Bill Lackey
Years of investment have lead to new businesses emerging on the corridor and new infrastructure to support growth. Over the decade, old buildings have been rehabilitated, green space has been created, a new parking garage has been built and the street was changed to accommodate two-way traffic.
Those improvements are part of the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been invested in the redevelopment of downtown Springfield over the past 10 to 15 years, said Tom Franzen, the director of economic development for Springfield.
Redevelopment and revitalizing efforts have been geared towards making the downtown vibrant again and regaining commerce that left years ago.
That includes businesses that left for other areas or ones that were over shadowed in by one time retail hubs such as the Upper Valley Mall.
Organizations such as the Turner Foundation have purchased property on the street as well as invested in previous holdings with the goal of attracting businesses and development.
Cotter said that there were a lot of vacancies in the corridor a decade ago. He said slowly efforts taken by various parties have changed that.
Several businesses have come and gone on North Fountain Avenue in previous years. Some have moved to different locations in order to attract more business, while others have shuttered their doors for good.
However, Cotter said that the most recent crop of restaurants and businesses to emerged in the corridor have shown signs that they intend to stay.
“We had various tenants over the years. People would try things out. There have been starts and stops. But, eventually we have had some really good tenants step up and they have done a great job,” he said.
Some of the current businesses on the street have been operating there for several years and have been able to maintain a steady customer base. Though, like many, they are navigating the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cotter said as those businesses have grown they have also expanded their presence in Springfield.
Instead of moving to larger spaces or out of the area entirely, some have decided to open additional locations.
Restaurants that have opened on the corridor over the past several years include Le Torte Dolci, a European style bakery, that opened in 2018, as well as Salato Deli, a European style deli, owned by the same couple.
The owners opened a third business, Crust and Company, in 2020 at COhatch Springfield on South Fountain Avenue.
In addition to that, Winans Chocolates & Coffees has had a spot on North Fountain Avenue since 2016. A second Winans location in Springfield opened last year on North Limestone Street.
Stella Bleu Bistro, which offers fine dining options, opened its doors on North Fountain Avenue in 2019. Fratelli’s Famiglia Ristorante, an Italian restaurant, opened in 2020.
Fratelli's Famiglia Ristorante opened in downtown Springfield in 2020. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Cotter said that the success of those businesses as well as investments made to area buildings and infrastructure has made the corridor more attractive.
One recent investment includes a three-story parking garage on North Fountain Avenue that opened in 2020 and cost approximately $6.8 million to build.
The garage also includes more than 3,000 square feet of retail space and was created to provide more parking space in the area as well as support local businesses and economic development efforts.
Springfield's newest parking garage, a $6.8 million investment, includes space for retail on the first floor. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Alex Dietz, the economic development coordinator for Clark County, said all of those pieces play a part in the overall revitalization of the downtown.
Dietz said additions like the parking garage as well as new businesses continue to build momentum, which can in turn lead to more investment, more businesses and more people living downtown.
“It bodes well and shows well when you have a tenant like Pretzelmaker that is looking for an area to do business that has potential and momentum,” Dietz said.
Pretzelmaker, which is a franchise, worked with Dillin Property Group as well as the Clark County Land Bank and the Turner Foundation to find a new location.
The franchise owner Jong Suk Sohn said that he initially intended to close the location once the mall shuttered its doors. However, the store manager Mandi Perrin asked it they could relocate and she was tasked with finding a new location that would fit their needs.
Sohn said that rent at the location in North Fountain Avenue was reasonable and his store manager Perrin informed him that the business could do well in the downtown.
As a result of the decision to move the business to downtown Springfield, Pretzelmaker will be investing $100,000 and $150,000 to build out its new space, Sohn said.
The business is also expected to hire six people for its downtown Springfield location.
Cotter said with that corridor attracting more interest, the next step is to continue to support that growth by attracting developers that will create more living space in the area.
That includes efforts to build several apartments that overlook North Fountain.
And in addition to that there is a project, Center Street Townes, that is underway and aims to build 34 townhomes that will be located in six buildings in the area of Center and West Columbia streets.
Cotter said more apartments and homes in the area will bring more people to the downtown and in turn generate more business.
By the numbers
6: Number of businesses on N. Fountain between E. Main and W. Columbia
5: Number of businesses that are food related
$150K: Top end of investment pretzel business is making on N. Fountain