Springfield’s city planners hired consultants to study part of Grant Avenue to weigh its potential for modern urban development, and to determine how it can best be transformed into a destination district.
The city of Springfield announced Feb. 16 that it hired planning consultants from PGAV Planners to study the section of Grant Avenue that starts at Catalpa Street, near Parkview High School and JFK Stadium, and runs north to Olive Street. The planners will conduct what is called a qualifications analysis on that part of Grant Avenue to determine which areas qualify for economic development and revitalization tools — financing methods that could be used to pay for changes on Grant Avenue.
The Grant Avenue Parkway project is a plan to create an off-street pedestrian and bicycle pathway along Grant Avenue from Sunshine Street to College Street in downtown Springfield. The study area is 1.1 miles in length from its north and south ends at Olive and Catalpa, respectively.
If it goes through, the Grant Avenue Parkway project will use $25 million to turn part of the area into a district designed to attract visitors, inspire development and encourage outdoor recreation. It also will change transportation around Parkview High School and Fassnight Park, and the western end of downtown.
The planners will also look at properties as far west of Grant as Douglas Avenue, and as far to the east as Patton Alley.
The goals of the study are to create resources for economic development and neighborhood revitalization along the Grant Avenue Parkway corridor and into surrounding neighborhoods. The consultants will look for opportunities to bring in private investments in commercial and residential properties, and will identify programs to provide benefits to Springfield residents who live along Grant Avenue.
“Neighborhood Revitalization and Economic Development are two of the four overall goals of the Grant Avenue Parkway corridor improvement effort,” Springfield Economic Development Director Sarah Kerner said. “This analysis will work in coordination with extensive corridor planning efforts to facilitate private investment that will work in-step with the public infrastructure improvements and the community’s vision for this corridor.”
PGAV staff members are already looking at properties in the study area. In the coming months, the team will open opportunities for residents, property owners and developers to engage in the process and provide input.
“We want to know what type of private investment people are interested in, whether that’s people investing in new commercial development or homeowners investing in their homes,” explains PGAV project leader Andy Struckhoff. “We also need help identifying the challenges and potential barriers to investing in the area as well as the unique opportunities.”
PGAV has done similar study and place design work in Kirkwood, Sedalia, Chillicothe and the 24:1 region of North St. Louis County, among other places across the country.
Who is affected?
Residents of the area
Anyone involved or interested in Parkview High School
People who love to walk, run or cycle
Real estate developers
Looking ahead to development
A final study report and recommendations are expected to be brought to the Springfield City Council in late spring 2022. Find more information on the website for the Grant Avenue Parkway corridor improvement project.
The city of Springfield is required to kick in about $5 million to meet a 20-percent match requirement on a $20.9 million grant to fund construction of the Grant Avenue Parkway.
Transportation projects that meet certain criteria can qualify for funding through a federal grant program called Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD). Applicants have to show that their projects improve safety, access and quality of life, or provide some other environmental benefit to qualify for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s grant program.
Springfield applied for the BUILD grant twice. After first being denied, Springfield submitted the Grant Avenue Parkway project with modifications a second time in 2019, and received a grant award.
The south hub of the project area is the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium on Sunshine Street off of Campbell Avenue. The northern hub is the IDEA Commons at Mill Street with a proposed center city loop around part of downtown Springfield.
The goals are to establish the parkway as a place to visit, promote pedestrian and cyclist safety, create connections within and between neighborhoods, encourage diverse and mixed uses of land, beautify the area along the parkway and encourage people to invest in their community.
On March 11, 2021, the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission adopted the Grant Avenue Parkway Corridor plan, also known as the GAP Corridor plan.
“The GAP Corridor plan focuses on those areas adjacent to the Parkway from College to Catalpa Streets that are generally within 500 feet east and west of the Grant Avenue centerline, as well as Grand Street,” the introduction to the document reads.
The concept is to think outside of traditional planning and zoning, and to “capitalize and encourage redevelopment and reinvestment” on property that falls inside the Grant Avenue corridor. It is not a legal document, but a set of guidelines.
Under the current terms of the design, there are no plans for the city to take property or forced relocations through the use of eminent domain. There will, however, be right-of-way acquisition and construction easements.
On March 11, 2021, Springfield Planning Principal Randall Whitman told the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission that the area between Fassnight Park and College Avenue was a key area of focus because it represented an area of great need. The planners noted that the West Central neighborhood has one of the lowest owner-occupancy rates for housing in the city, and that many homes in the neighborhood are unoccupied.
The preliminary design of Grant Avenue Parkway puts a traffic roundabout on the west side of Parkview High School between the school grounds and JFK Stadium. The roundabout is designed to replace a signalized intersection, and the roundabout is thought to be able to relieve traffic congestion that happens before and after school and on nights where Parkview plays home games or holds track and field meets.
The plan describes the area between Fassnight Park and Grand Avenue as “underutilized” and “full of potential.”
Numbers to know
1.1 miles: length of Grant Avenue from Catalpa Street to Olive Street
$20.9 million: grant Springfield received to develop Grant Avenue Parkway
$5 million: local match required for Springfield to get the grant.
17,596 people: Springfield’s population growth over the last 20 years.
“Quality of place”
Springfield City Manager Jason Gage explained that developments like Grant Avenue Parkway are part of a larger plan for Springfield to find an identity as a city where people want to go to experience something unique.
“You’re trying to figure out, ‘Who are we? Who do we want to be and who can we be?’” Gage said. “We’re looking at ‘What is our niche here? What are our challenges here? How do we flourish in the next 20 years?’ Quite honestly, core communities in metropolitan areas have a difficult time. While the metropolitan areas oftentimes grow and flourish, the core cities often have difficulty.”
In 2000, Springfield’s population was 151,580 people. In 2020, U.S. Census data put Springfield’s population at 169,176, a gain of 17,596 people and a gain of 11.6 percent. It would be like adding the entire population of Republic into Springfield over two decades’ time.
Gage says Springfield had a healthy growth rate over the last 20 years, which made “economic vitality,” a key part of the Springfield City Council’s plan for the next two decades.
Development along Grant Avenue Parkway would fit in with development that focuses on more urban parts of Springfield, where property can have mixed uses.
“We know, at least at this point the way we’re set up, we’re not the single family ranch home, suburban-style future community. We’re more of the more-density, a little more urbanized, a little bit more young professional,” Gage said, “and so we’re focused on quality of place, and that’s another priority in trying to create catalyst areas that people are really excited to go to.”
Springfield Mayor Ken McClure praised Springfield Director of Quality of Place Initiatives Tim Rosenbury’s effort to look beyond simple public works projects along Grant Avenue, and to go deeper into the concept of turning about three miles of city street into a destination all its own.
“In its broadest sense, it’s what makes Springfield a place that you either want to visit, or you want to live, or you want to stay for a year. In its more minute sense, it’s what makes Springfield attractive,” McClure said.