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Years in the making, Restore SGF — a nonprofit encouraging reinvestment in Springfield’s historic neighborhoods — debuted its first program at a ribbon cutting ceremony at the organization’s new office space, located at 1409 W. Sunshine St., on Sept. 13.
The ideas first thought up by founders Richard Ollis and Brian Fogle in 2019 came to fruition Wednesday, as Restore SGF launched the Block Challenge Grant Program. Restore SGF aims to initiate a chain reaction of home improvements in five Springfield neighborhoods by reimbursing participants up to $2,500 for eligible projects.
Oillis, Fogle and Restore SGF board members welcomed elected officials, city government staff and members of the Springfield community to the ribbon cutting, laying out the short-term and long-term vision of the organization.
“Our mission is very clear and simple,” Ollis, a former Springfield City Council member and the president of the Restore SGF board, told the audience. “We want to create and enhance complete neighborhoods, but most importantly, we want to promote homeownership and we’d like to rehabilitate our historic neighborhoods.”
How Restore SGF came to be
Restore SGF is the result of years of brainstorming, a trip to Des Moines, Iowa, and collaboration between a wide range of stakeholders and leaders in Springfield. As a part of their research, Ollis, Fogle and other persons involved in Restore SGF visited the Iowa capital to see the results of a similar program, Invest DSM.
Like Restore SGF, Invest DSM offers a Block Challenge Grant Program to help revitalize neighborhoods. Using data from an ongoing housing study in Springfield, Restore SGF identified neighborhoods that might the most benefit from an incentive program.
“What we learned in Des Moines is a starting place, and only a starting place,” Ollis said. “But our mission, and our start needs to be in these neighborhoods, in threes and fours. These are the neighborhoods that are at risk of, again, swinging the other way and it’s where we can have the most impact, at least with our initial efforts.”
Restore SGF considered a host of different factors in selecting which neighborhoods — at least one from each City Council Zone — would be eligible for the first Block Challenge Grant Program, including community assets, income, homeownership, historic features and the condition of properties, among other elements.
In addition, the committee that was tasked with identifying and scoring neighborhoods based on those factors intentionally selected “middle market” neighborhoods.
“We believe that neighborhood revitalization must go beyond the demolition of condemned homes,” Restore SGF Interim Executive Director Dana Elwell said in a press release. “That is why we’re focusing on what we’ve identified as ‘middle market’ neighborhoods — those that are neither the strongest nor the weakest in the Springfield housing market.”
Woodland Heights, Grant Beach, Doling Park (east of Robberson Avenue), Fassnight and Meador Park (east of National Avenue) were selected as the first five neighborhoods Restore SGF would offer its program in. Elwell said that they divided the Doling Park and Meador Park neighborhoods to have a greater impact and because some parts of the neighborhoods didn’t qualify for the program based on financial data.
How the Block Challenge Grant Program works
The grant program offers a reimbursement, or match, to homeowners in the five neighborhoods for qualifying improvements. The larger the chain reaction, the more each individual can be reimbursed. Teams of five to nine neighbors are eligible to be reimbursed $1,000, whereas teams of 10 to 19 can receive a $2,500 reimbursement per homeowner.
Participants are required to be the homeowner and primary resident of the property and be able to see the next team member’s home from their front porch. Becky Volz, a Restore SGF board member and president of the Woodland Heights Neighborhood Association, said this requirement provides an opportunity for neighbors to get to know each other, and enhance camaraderie and safety in the neighborhood.
“I feel like it’s really going to ramp up some positivity for people about where they live and really care about where they live and be proud of where they live,” Volz said.
The reimbursement is an equal match, meaning the participant must be able to pay at least half of the total project cost, and have access to expendable income prior to reimbursement.
Most any exterior improvement that is visible from the street qualifies for reimbursement, including, landscaping, siding, roofing, windows and concrete work, among other projects.
“What this does is create momentum in the neighborhood, excitement,” Ollis said. “We have signs that go out in the yards to, again, create visibility and frankly, people drive by and wondering what is going on in the neighborhood and seeing all the construction and improvements that are happening in the neighborhoods.”
Applications must be submitted by the team, and are accepted on a rolling basis between Sept. 15 to Dec. 1. More information about the program and an application form can be found on the Block Challenge website. Additional application windows will open at later dates, Ollis said.
Restore SGF and it’s first Block Challenge Grant Program is being funded by the City of Springfield — broken down between a $1 million American Rescue Plan Act grant and a $300,000 budget allocation — the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, and 10 Springfield area financial institutions, totaling a $3.19 million investment as of Sept. 13, 2023.
Ollis emphasized the public-private partnership that funded Restore SGF, highlighting the contributions of the banks. Banks committed anywhere between $30,000 and $60,000 over three years, with four banks establishing loans funds of $250,000 each. Arvest Bank, Mid-Missouri Bank, Commerce Bank, Great Southern Bank, Guaranty Bank, OakStar Bank, Old Missouri Bank, Central Bank, Regent Bank and Legacy Bank all invested in Restore SGF.
Ollis said Restore SGF’s goal is to have the initial funding last three years.
Future of Restore SGF
Even while celebrating, Restore SGF is planning for future growth, dependent upon the success of its first program.
Future grant programs will require additional funding, according to Ollis, and that will require Restore SGF to prove itself in order for its banking contributors to reinvest in the organization. Restore SGF will also explore other funding sources.
“We expect this to be successful,” Elwell said. “And if it is successful, as we expect, our plan is to announce four more neighborhoods that we will try to deal with. So it’s not something that we’re going to end up with these five neighborhoods and be done. We’re hoping and expecting that we’ll be advancing four more neighborhoods and beyond that four more neighborhoods.”
Ollis said he anticipates Restore SGF to hire three or four more staff members by the end of the first quarter of 2024, including a permanent executive director. Elwell is currently the only staff member of the organization.
In closing remarks, Springfield Mayor Ken McClure commended the work of volunteers, community buy-in and collaboration that made Restore SGF possible, and expressed optimism about the impact its programs could have on Springfield neighborhoods.
“We’re talking about improving the possibilities for homeownership, we’re talking about restoring historic neighborhoods, which are so much of a staple of this community…I am so excited to see how we’re going to go now we’ve got the first list of neighborhoods out there,” McClure said.
More information on Restore SGF and the Block Challenge Grant Program can be found on the Restore SGF website.