A proposed multipurpose arena at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds would be capable of hosting indoor sports, including volleyball tournaments, as shown in an architectural rendering. (Photo courtesy of the Ozark Empire Fair)

The Greene County Commission awarded nearly $23 million in the first distribution of federal stimulus money through American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding on June 16. 

The money will go toward colleges, a business incubator, efforts to shelter and help victims of domestic violence, fight poverty and other needs the commission identified in the first major distribution of ARPA funding.

“Today marks a major milestone in the ARPA process,” Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon said. “We are pleased to make these awards in our county and we are grateful for what each of these excellent organizations does in our county every day. It was difficult to narrow the field as all the applicants make such a difference for our citizens.”  

Greene County Commission-awarded ARPA funding

– Greene County Family Justice Center Alliance – $855,670 

– Habitat for Humanity of Springfield, Missouri – $475,000 

– Missouri State University – $1.455 million 

– Ozarks Technical Community College – $750,000 

– Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield – $2 million 

– Burrell Behavioral Health – $5.325 million 

– Ozark Empire Fairgrounds – $5 million 

– Vecino Group – $4.5 million

– Neighborhood Coalition Group – $1.5 million 

– Council of Churches of the Ozarks – $1 million 

There are 66 eligible categories for funding in the ARPA legislation. The legislation strongly suggests that counties and municipalities consider and incorporate an equity focus to ensure underrepresented and underserved community pockets receive eligible funding.

Greene County received a total allocation of $56.9 million, with $28.4 million to be awarded up front and the remaining $28.4 million to be injected in 2022. Greene County government officials planned for several funding cycles in 2022 and 2023. Ten percent of the funding is held in reserve.

Greene County’s 2021 ARPA Needs Assessment report contained a compilation of results from four different surveys, a series of nonprofit listening events, the 2021 Springfield Community Focus Report, and the Forward SGF master plan exploration documents.

From the compilation of input, Greene County’s nine-member ARPA Advisory Council reached a list of 12 top priorities. Dr. Lyle Foster is Greene County’s ARPA Grant and Equity Specialist, and the committee’s top advisor.

“These are members of our community who really are key players in our community, they have eyes and ears, understand how our community is recovering in terms of the pandemic, and also will make recommendations in terms of funding levels for the small business assistance program and in terms of our nonprofit assistance program,” Foster said.

The priorities are mental health services, affordable housing, services for unhoused persons, economic assistance for small businesses, help for nonprofits, household food programs, broadband internet access, child care and services to children in foster care, water and sewer improvement projects, assistance for people affected by substance misuse, aid to tourism and hospitality businesses and early childhood learning programs.

Major financial awards

The county commission allocated $5.3 million to Burrell Behavioral Health for the future development of a mental health crisis center specifically designed to serve youth and young people. Burrell already operates the adult Rapid Access Unit, a walk-in facility for persons ages 18 and older to access immediate psychiatric care. Clients can get medication-assisted treatment for opioid use, psychiatric assessment, initial assessment eligibility determination, a brief therapy session with a counselor, information on access to peer support services, 23-hour observation, referral to appropriate follow-up treatment and other care as needed. The Rapid Access Unit is located on South Park Avenue.

The Burrell Behavioral Crisis Center is located at 800 South Park Avenue in Springfield, southwest of the intersection of West Mt. Vernon Street and Kansas Expressway. (Photo by Burrell Behavioral Health)

Vecino Group is a design, development and asset management group with four offices, including one on Commercial Street in Springfield. It proposed a plan to develop a four-story building on Commercial Street with 36 small apartments and a business incubator with a public meeting room. The total price tag to develop Carver Commons is estimated somewhere around $12 million, according to what Vecino representatives told the Greene County Commission at a presentation meeting May 25. The commission awarded $4.5 million of the $5 million Vecino Group requested.

The Neighborhood Coalition Group proposed redeveloping and floodproofing parts of Silver Springs Park. The park was developed on 13 acres and was the only public park for Springfield’s Black residents during the era of segregation. Silver Springs hosts the annual Park Day Reunion on the first weekend of August, an event featuring a parade, beauty pageant, live music and a barbecue luncheon in the park. The $1.5 million in ARPA funding will largely be spent on flood mitigation at Silver Springs.

The caretakers of the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds plan to build a multipurpose arena and youth agriculture education center, which “will be a true jewel in the crown of the Queen City,” according to the fair foundation’s website. The arena is to be built to host trade show events, indoor festivals, livestock shows, archery competitions, volleyball matches, rodeo events and other sports. The arena carries an estimated price tag of somewhere between $12-15 million.

With that, the Ozark Empire Fair Board plans to expand camping areas on the fairgrounds to add about 400 campus sites. The Greene County Commission allocated $5 million to the fairgrounds for development and improvement. The Springfield City Council voted 8-0 to pass a bill to hand off $5 million from the Missouri Office of Administration to the Ozark Empire Fair Foundation on March 21. The Ozark Empire Fair also received $10 million in ARPA funding from the state legislature passed through the Missouri Office of Administration as part of a $42.5 million bill passed near the end of the 2022 legislative session in May. 

Thousands of surveys from 2021

In a survey by the government of Greene County, respondents were asked what issues community members perceived as being high priority for the county to address using American Rescue Plan Act funding. There were more than 1,700 responses, and respondents could choose up to five categories from a list of 22 eligible selections.

The No. 1 need identified in the survey was public health and mental health services, with 843 persons selecting public health and mental health as a key need for improvement in Greene County.

Some of the other high-ranking selections included affordable housing, services for unhoused persons, COVID-19 vaccination and financial assistance for small businesses.

The survey also contained a section where open-ended comments were allowed, and respondents provided some anecdotal information about middle-class earners who make too much money to qualify for most public assistance programs but still struggle financially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Housing and rental cost are out of control,” one respondent wrote. “And the (houses) that even lower middle class [persons] can afford are borderline dilapidated and should be condemned. As a single mom that makes less than $40k a year, a three-bedroom home is unattainable in Springfield these days.”

The City of Springfield also conducted a survey of residents to set priorities for ARPA funds, with 5,000 households receiving surveys at random. A total of 1,438 surveys came back.

Respondents chose public safety and crime prevention as the No. 1 priority on the Springfield survey, followed by homeless and housing services, community health and wellness, premium pay for essential workers, and stable neighborhood revitalization efforts.

Greene County also received $8.77 million from the U.S. Department of the Treasury Rental Assistance Program (ERA). Greene County received an additional $2.77 million in ERA funding through the American Rescue Plan Act.

“ERA funds are a very valuable component of ARPA relief. Many residents are behind on their rent due to the economic consequences of the pandemic,” the needs assessment report reads. “ERA does not address the fact that housing payments are still not affordable to many. The Greene County Community Survey and Nonprofit Listening Sessions both identify affordable housing as being a significant issue. Considering the recent increase in housing costs in the Greene County housing sector, this continues to be a need that has major impacts.”

In the fall of 2021, Greene County’s ARPA Advisory Council held listening sessions with representatives of nonprofit groups. A total of 56 groups sent representatives to four different sessions.

“The nonprofit representatives were given the chance to share what they believed to be the most pressing issues in the community and in their line of work,” the needs assessment report reads, in part. “Nonprofit representatives were encouraged by Greene County representatives to keep sustainability and equity in mind when developing project proposals for ARPA funding.”

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