An architect's rendering shows what the Loose Goose development would look like looking west from Grant Avenue. (Photo provided by GDL Enterprises)

It’s called the Loose Goose, and if it’s allowed to take flight, it will offer Springfield residents a place to go for food, coffee, cocktails, packaged liquor and a game of pickleball.

The Springfield City Council spent about an hour debating a bill to rezone 1.47 acres of property of the southwest corner of Grand Avenue’s intersection with Grant Avenue. The property owners seek to have the land zone for a planned unit development that could be a gathering place for Springfield residents with an array of interests.

GDL Enterprises proposes to build a coffee shop with indoor seating and drive-thru, a food truck parking area with seating, yard-games, pickleball courts, an outdoor “walk-up yard bar,” package liquor sales and off-street parking. “Package liquor” is defined by ordinance as a store where alcoholic beverages are sold for off-site consumption.

Mayor Ken McClure remembers when the property was a gas station, but that was about half a century ago.

“Fifty-seven years ago, I spent a Friday afternoon with a fellow trombone player selling Nestle candy bars at that gas station to raise money for the Parkview Viking band to go to the New York World’s Fair to represent the state in 1965,” McClure said.

The gas station canopy still stands. It’s being incorporated into the design for the Loose Goose, according to some renderings that the developers supplied in their official proposal to the Springfield City Council.

Developers of the proposed Loose Goose project show the current state of their property at the intersection of Grant Avenue and Grand Street. (Photo provided by GDL Enterprises)

Andrew Doolittle spoke to the City Council on Aug. 8, on behalf of the development group GDL Enterprises. 

“We feel like this is a risky investment for us, but we’re excited to be doing it,” Doolittle said. “We believe the Grant Avenue Parkway neighborhoods need a central gathering space, and we want to build it for them.”

GDL Enterprises renovated homes and duplexes in the West Central and Fassnight neighborhoods over the past eight years. The investors include Doolittle, Willie Grega and Cameron LaBarr, Good Spirits and Company owner Josh Widner, who is involved in Cherry Picker Package and Fare, Best of Luck Beer Hall, Sweet Boys and Golden Girl Rum Club, and Michelle Billionis, a partner in the Coffee Ethic.

“We believe that we’re kickstarting the future of Grant Avenue,” Doolittle said.

The developers want to build a 1,500-square foot building, along with a 280-square foot rental kiosk and bar, a parking lot with 33 spaces and six pickleball courts. The Loose Goose developers are not requesting any financial incentives from the city of Springfield to develop the property.

The letter and the spirit of the Grant Avenue Parkway plan

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 city of Springfield is required to kick in about $5 million to meet a 20-percent match requirement on a $20.9 million federal grant to fund the construction of the Grant Avenue Parkway.

An overlay on a map shows Springfield residents the approximate location of the planned Grant Avenue Parkway development. (Photo: City of 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.

Councilwoman Heather Hardinger spoke of her liking for the Loose Goose proposal and its fit with the intent of Grant Avenue Parkway.

“I think this project is exciting for Springfield; I don’t think we have anything like it right now,” Hardinger said. “This seems really cool and it seems like you’ve put a lot of intention into how people will interact with the space and enjoy the Grant Avenue Parkway.”

An architect’s rendering shows a gas station canopy incorporated into the design for the Loose Goose. (Photo provided by GDL Enterprises)

The drive-thru liquor store and a lack of mixed-use development make the Loose Goose project fall out of regulation with the overall plan for Grant Avenue Parkway.

“Specifically, mixed-use is required to be developed here, so that includes a residential component,” Istenes said. “The land uses that are proposed in the project do not meet the overall master plan for that area.”

City Manager Jason Gage told the council that there are elements of the Loose Goose that do not meet the letter of the vision for development along the parkway, but there is also some ambiguity in the vision documents.

“It depends on what you believe are the elements that get you where you want to be,” Gage told the council. “Generally speaking, an activity center, which is emphasized in the corridor plan, is a good thing and I think would be a positive attribute.”

While it doesn’t have apartments or residences on site, and it has a drive-thru liquor store as part of its offerings, the Loose Goose may still adhere to the spirit of what is envisioned for Grant Avenue Parkway development.

Potential site. (Photo: Google Maps)

“The narrative will tell you that the intent is to provide more emphasis on quality of design, in exchange for that, more flexibility of use,” Gage said. “It’s a pretty broad concept to trade off there. There are not great definitions as to what that means.”

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 Cherry and Pickwick standard

Pickwick Place, the name for the development surrounding the intersection of East Cherry Street and South Pickwick Avenue, comes front and center for many Springfield residents when they hear the phrase “complete neighborhood.” The ideas playing out at the intersection of Cherry and Pickwick are the model for the redevelopment plans found in Forward SGF, a 20-year comprehensive plan for the entire city of Springfield set to be the guiding principles for growth from now until the end of 2040.

“I feel like the Loose Goose project is going to be a catalyst site for future development similar to the way that Cherry and Pickwick developed,” Doolittle said. “It started out with food and beverage industries and businesses, and then density followed. We feel like the Grant Avenue Parkway could build out in the same kind of fashion.”

On Pickwick Ave., you can find both houses and businesses. (Photo by Shanon Cay Bowers)

Doolittle said the documentation of complete neighborhoods nestled within the Forward SGF plan was a key guidance point for the Loose Goose developers as their visions took shape.

“I read the entire document,” Doolittle said. “The neighborhood hub section was one of my favorites, and I just want to say point blank that Loose Goose is designed to be a neighborhood hub for the Fassnight and the West Central neighborhoods.”

Zone 1 Councilwoman Monica Horton also spoke of the Loose Goose’s potential to connect the people who live in Fassnight and West Central.

“This whole concept of a central gathering place sounds like an attractive business development to me,” Horton said. “I like the recreational component to it. You know, the whole cocktails — the whole drive-thru component. There is a part of me that really, really agrees that this would be a great connection point for the neighborhood.”

Drive-thru concerns

Councilman Matthew Simpson noted that a drive-thru lane and window are a key difference between the Loose Goose and what’s present at Cherry and Pickwick.

“That is an excellent and probably the best model that we can point to in Springfield, and I think this proposal fits that,” Simpson said. “The one distinction that has been talked about is this would have a drive-thru. Obviously, the businesses (at Cherry and Pickwick) have walk-up windows, pretty much exclusively.”

If the words “drive-thru,” “coffee,” and “City Council,” draw your attention, you’re probably thinking about 7 Brew Coffee at the vacant corner of Jefferson Avenue and Sunshine Street. In July, the City Council voted down an application for a conditional use permit that would have allowed a developer to build a 7 Brew Coffee drive-thru store on the property. One of the main concerns neighboring property owners voiced with 7 Brew was that it had a single driveway taking inbound and outbound traffic onto Jefferson Avenue.

The Loose Goose site plan calls for outbound driveways on Grant Avenue and on Douglas Avenue. Walkup windows for walkers and cyclists are also part of the business model.

“If you walk up on your bike up from the parkway, which will be on the other side of Grant, you won’t interact with the driveway at all as a pedestrian,” Doolittle said. “If you’re a pedestrian, you can still be a pedestrian. People from out of town might not even know that it has a drive-thru component when they’re using the parkway.”

Councilman Mike Schilling said he is concerned about a drive-thru liquor store turning into a target for alcohol-fueled crime at the corner of Grand and Grant.

“The alcohol component — I’ve got a little concern with that given the socioeconomic residential activity in that neighborhood as it is currently, I could see that becoming a problem,” Schilling said.

The ‘pop-pop-pop’ of pickleball

Doolittle said the developers decided to include six pickleball courts in the project plan after some research into the sport that was done “very methodically.”

“We’re trying to echo some of the sports tourism investments the city is making at large, and we’re trying to bring those down to a human scale,” Doolittle said.

If the hoards of pickleballers descending on Meador Park on a daily basis are any indicator, Springfield has an appetite for the racket-and-ball sport.

“We really think a lot of people from the south side of town and other parts of town will come to the center city and re-explore it because of the pickleball,” Doolittle said. “We want it to be a destination, we want to get people here, and we want it to enhance the livability factor of the parkway as a whole.”

“Do you think pickleball can save America?” Schilling asked one of the speakers at the City Council meeting Aug. 8.

He’s referring to a piece by Sarah Larson published in “The New Yorker” in July 2022. Larson explores the development of pickleball, its appeal as both a sport and a social activity, and the controversies surrounding the sport as venture capitalists infiltrate its sanctioning bodies.

“As pickleball fever has intensified, so have confrontations. ‘The residents presented us with a petition,’ a board member of an active-living community outside Hartford, Connecticut, told me,” Larson writes. “‘We want pickleball, and we want it now.’ In Sonoma County, tennis courts central to a pickleball turf war were vandalized with motor oil, presumably by an angry tennis player. And, in communities from Provincetown to British Columbia, the sport’s distinctive ‘pop-pop-pop’ has become the new leaf blower.”

Neighborhood association presidents speak

Nathan Cook lives on West Portland Street in the Fassnight neighborhood and is the president of the neighborhood association. He is also a teacher at Parkview High School.

“The Loose Goose team has been clear, communicative and positive in the sharing of ideas,” Cook said. “They’ve sought to listen and to learn. This project will bring a new energy that has long sat vacant, becoming a gathering place for our neighbors and aligning with our values of beauty, safety and connection.”

Brandon Jenson, the president of the West Central Neighborhood Alliance, offered some mixed input. First, he said the developers were open in their communication with the people who live north of Grand Avenue.

“I would really like to commend this development team on their public engagement efforts throughout this process,” Jenson said. “I think they really set a model that other development teams should look to exemplify and model in how they approach development opportunities throughout the city.”

Jenson also has professional experience in community planning and economic development, and from that experience, he criticized parts of the Loose Goose plan to fit in with the overall vision for Grant Avenue Parkway. Allowing variances in the early stages of the Grant Avenue Parkway development, Jenson said, would have a negative impact on the city’s long-term credibility with its citizens and with developers.

“Over the last three years, I’ve seen the city do a truly remarkable job in terms of public engagement and outreach with residents to develop a thorough vision for our future and this corridor specifically,” Jenson said. “The proposal before you is the first major test of this council’s willingness to stand behind the vision that was expressed by its stakeholders and affirm the vision we set for our community.”

The Grant Avenue Parkway plan calls for developers to build mixed-use, multistory buildings at key intersections, with apartment units placed on upper floors above commercial businesses.

“At its core, (Loose Goose) is a single-story commercial drive-thru operation at the very center of the Grant Avenue corridor,” Jenson said.

The Springfield City Council is scheduled to hold a final vote on rezoning the Loose Goose property on Aug. 22. The official recommendation from city staff members is denial, based on the conditions of the Grant Avenue Parkway development plan, while the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger